As we age, the loss of high frequency sounds becomes a common sign of hearing impairment due to degenerative changes in the inner ear. High frequency hearing loss is common in the U.S. (~1 in 5 adult men and women are affected) and the classic sign is a decreased ability to hear high pitched sounds (voices of children/women) as well as to decipher conversations in a crowded room. Loss of low frequency sounds (voices of men, thunder, bass) is less common but is also an important cause of hearing loss.
A study from the Yale School of Medicine suggests that having a history of cardiovascular disease or at least 1 cardiovascular risk factor (diabetes, high blood pressure, history of smoking) also raises the risk of both high and low frequency hearing loss.
Bottom Line: While heart related risk factors may promote hearing loss, it still remains to be determined whether intensive management of these risk factors delays progression of this process.
Listed below are some tips related to hearing and cardiovascular health
- High frequency hearing loss is common in patients with diabetes (Type 1 and Type 2) due to disease of small blood vessels of the (cochlear) inner ear.
- Treatment of high cholesterol with statins has been shown to improve tinnitus (ringing of the ears).
- In a study of 274 men and women aged 45-64 years, hearing loss was 2-fold greater among those with hypertension (140/90 or higher) than with normal blood pressure.
- A study conducted in Korea found that obese men and women with elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels were at increased risk of high frequency hearing loss.
- Data from the Nurses’ Health Study found that women who consumed 2-4 fish meals per week experienced a 20% lower likelihood of hearing loss compared to women who consumed less than 1 fish meal per month over the 18-year followup period.
- Cigarette smoking cessation eliminates the excess risk of hearing loss within 5-years of quitting.
Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.