According to the recent study, sleep apnea does not only affect the quality of sleep, it may also cause the hearing loss. The research linked sleep apnea with hearing loss at both low and high frequencies. After the researchers adjusted the data for other possible causes of hearing impairment, the findings of the study held true.
The study’s findings give further support to the idea that sleep apnea usually does not occur in isolation. However, according to the researchers, it could be a sign of other underlying health conditions. Dr. Neomi Shah, one of the study’s authors, said that sleep apnea is more of a chronic and systematic disease and it is not just something that happens when you are sleeping. Dr. Shah is an associate director of the pulmonary sleep lab at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City and according to her, sleep apnea probably affects multiple different organs. She is urging that people start considering this sleeping disorder as a chronic disease with inflammatory and vascular issues.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, sleep apnea, which is a common disorder, affects about 18 million Americans. Person, who is suffering from it, shows typical signs. He or she develops periodic gasping when snoring or makes some particular snorting noises. Therefore, sleep apnea interrupts sleep and can cause several other symptoms, including excessive daytime fatigue. It has also has been associated with generalized inflammation, endocrine and cardiovascular problems.
What is the connection between sleep apnea and hearing loss? According to the study, it could be a mixture of factors that cause abnormal functioning in the blood vessels and inflammation, since the ear is inclined to this kind of injury. During the research, data from almost 14,000 U.S. participants in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos was collected. On average, the subjects were 41 years old and about 53 percent were women. All of the participants have completed hearing testing and in-home sleep studies.
Results of the research have revealed that about 10 percent of the study participants had sleep apnea. Furthermore, around 30 percent of those people had some form of hearing impairment. The study took into account gender, age and Hispanic/Latino backgrounds. The researchers also took into account the health-related issues such as diabetes, fat levels in the blood, high blood pressure, cigarette and alcohol use, noise exposure and history of hearing loss or snoring.
People, who were from Puerto Rican and Cuban background, were more likely to have hearing disorders. People, who had higher mass index (an indication of being overweight), were the ones who snored or were diagnosed with having sleep apnea. Authors of the study discovered that sleep apnea was associated with a 90 percent increase in low frequency hearing impairment and a 31 percent increase in high frequency hearing impairment. Furthermore, sleep apnea was also linked to a 38 percent increase in both low and high frequency hearing loss. According to the study, speech tends to fall in the low frequency range. However, several experts urged people to interpret the results of the study with caution.
Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist and associate professor in the department of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, said that correlation is not causation and it does not mean that a person with sleep apnea is at risk for hearing loss. She added that a person would not know if sleep apnea appears before hearing loss or vice versa. Spencer said that maybe they do not come together at all and they may not be related, except by a third factor.
However, Spencer did say that since a possible link between sleep apnea and hearing loss has been discovered, the next step should be a smaller study that will look more closely at the question of whether it actually causes hearing impairment. She also pointed out that it would be important to look at the association between sleep apnea and hearing impairment among a broader geographical and ethic group, since the study only drew data from people with Latino and Hispanic background.
Spencer ended her thoughts by saying that there is only one thing that can be concluded from the study and that is the fact that there is indeed a potential that by treating sleep apnea, hearing impairment could be improved. Shah, the author of the research, urged people to get evaluated. She is convinced that people with sleep apnea should also be checked for hearing impairment, since the study discovered that it is associated with the disorder.
By: Janette Verdnik