Is there a connection between sleep apnea and hearing loss?

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by: Fran Springer

Sleep apnea has been associated with blood flow problems. A potential explanation for the relationship between the sleeping disorder and hearing loss could be problems with blood flow to the cochlea in the inner ear.

To offer some clarity, the organs in the inner ear require a regular, healthy blood flow supply. It’s this good circulation that is able to nourish delicate hair cells within your cochlea, that are responsible for translating the noises your ears collect into electrical impulses that make their way along the auditory nerve to the brain for interpretation into sounds that you can understand and comprehend. The problem arises because these hair cells don’t regenerate, any resulting damage to this part of the inner ear causes sensorineural hearing loss.

Hearing healthcare professionals are aware that circulatory issues can cause hearing loss. Hearing loss may occur when there is disease in the blood vessels supplying the inner ear, such as arteriosclerosis. Nerves of the ear can be damaged by excessive vibration such as chronic loud noise. Damage may also occur from the toxic effects of certain drugs such as antibiotics. Since sleep apnea increases the body’s levels of inflammatory proteins and the risk of arteriosclerosis, sleep apnea may also increase risk of hearing impairment.

It’s not known for sure if sleep apnea directly causes hearing loss. However, sleep apnea reduces blood flow to the ears, which require a healthy supply of blood to work properly. Also, years of loud snoring may permanently damage ears’ sensitive hair cells, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss, the most common type of permanent hearing loss.

If you have hearing loss associated with sleep apnea, it is likely sensorineural in nature and treated with hearing aids. A hearing healthcare professional will be able to determine the type of hearing loss you have and offer a professional recommendation for the appropriate treatment to suit your needs.

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