Sleep apnea is a common disorder in which you have pauses in breathing or shallow breathing while you sleep. Pauses in breathing can last from a few seconds to minutes. They may occur 30 or more times an hour.
Sleep apnea is a chronic condition that disrupts your sleep and affects your quality of sleep. While sleep apnea has long been associated with increasing the risk of cardiovascular problems, a new study suggests that sleep apnea may also be linked to hearing loss.
In a population-based study of almost 14,000 participants, researchers administered at-home sleep apnea studies and on-site hearing tests. Sleep apnea was assessed using the apnea hypopnea index, which indicates severity based on the number of air flow interruptions per hour of sleep. High frequency hearing loss was defined as having a mean hearing threshold of greater than 25 decibels in either ear at 2000, 3000, 4000, 6000, and 8000Hz. Low frequency hearing loss was defined as having a mean hearing threshold of greater than 25 decibels in either ear at 500 and 1000Hz.
Researchers found 10 percent of participants had at least moderate sleep apnea. The patients who had sleep apnea had a 31 percent increased risk of high frequency hearing loss, a 90 percent increased risk of low frequency hearing loss, and a 38 percent increased risk of combined low and high frequency loss. This finding held true even after researchers adjusted data for other possible causes of hearing loss (like age, diabetes, high blood pressure, and noise exposure).
It is believed that sleep apnea has adverse affects on the vascular supply to the hearing organ in the inner ear. It is unknown if treatment of sleep apnea decreases the risk of hearing loss. Further studies would need to be performed to confirm this. This study was limited to the Hispanic and Latino population and while it is believed these results would be similar in other ethnicities, further investigation would be needed.
So what is the takeaway? If you have sleep apnea, discuss with your medical provider whether a hearing evaluation would be advised.
Danielle Combs is a clinical audiologist who staffs The Hearing Center at Holston Valley Medical Center. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org powered by Disqus