A Link Between Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Hearing loss has been linked with a number of different medical conditions, with dementia at the forefront. The correlation lies in the social consequences of untreated hearing loss: when people struggle to communicate, they tend to withdraw from their friends and loved ones. Social isolation is cited as a leading risk factor for developing dementia.

New studies have shown that there is a link between hearing loss and rheumatoid arthritis. The revelations of this study point to a bigger issue: hearing loss affects many different areas of our lives and should be addressed sooner rather than later.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

According to the Mayo Clinic: “Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disorder that can affect more than just your joints. In some people, the condition can also damage a wide variety of body systems, including the skin, eyes, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.” Additionally, “the inflammation associated with rheumatoid arthritis is what can damage other parts of the body as well. While new types of medications have involved treatment options dramatically severe rheumatoid arthritis can still cause physical disabilities.”

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include: swollen joints, stiffness in the joints in the morning and after inactivity, and fatigue, fever, and weight loss. It is important to note that 40 percent of people who have rheumatoid arthritis experience symptoms beyond the joints, occurring in various parts of the body from different organs to blood vessels.

Study: Is Hearing Impairment Associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis?

In 2016, a group of researchers asked the question: “Is hearing impairment associated with rheumatoid arthritis?” Using a comprehensive search of databases (Pubmed, Embase, Cochrane, ComDisDome), researchers attempted to find a correlation between hearing loss and rheumatoid arthritis. They found that there were different pathologies related to hearing impairment and rheumatoid arthritis. Most notably, they found that there was “a wide variation in the reported prevalence of different types of hearing loss in rheumatoid arthritis patients. Sensorineural hearing is the most common type of hearing impairment in rheumatoid arthritis patients ranging from 25% to 72%. Conductive hearing loss and mixed hearing loss have also been reported less frequently.”

In cases of hearing loss among rheumatoid arthritis, sensorineural hearing loss was found due to issues with auditory neuropathy, destruction of the cochlear hair cells, and ototoxic medication. 

The Link Between Sensorineural Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Sensorineural hearing loss is one of the most common forms of hearing loss, and it occurs when there is damage to the hair cells of the inner ear. These tiny hair cells are responsible for translating vibrations from sound waves into neural signals that are received by the brain as sound. Hair cells do not regenerate when damaged (due to ototoxic medication, poor blood flow, exposure to loud noise, or the natural process of aging), and the breakdown in this process results in sensorineural hearing loss.

For people with rheumatoid arthritis, the link is apparent. The inflammation of blood vessels could harm the health of inner ear hair cells, which could lead to permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Furthermore, anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis may be ototoxic in nature, which means they are poisonous to the cells of the inner ear.

Recognizing the Signs of Hearing Loss

Because hearing loss is an invisible condition, it is often overlooked and goes undiagnosed. Additionally, people tend to accommodate their hearing loss by asking others to speak up or by turning up the volume on the TV or radio. The Hearing Loss Association of America estimates that people wait seven years from the time they first notice changes in their hearing to the time they decide to seek treatment for hearing loss. Over this time, one’s hearing abilities could worsen and lead to other problems, from an increased of hospitalizations and accidents to an increased risk for stress, depression, anxiety, and even dementia.

Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss

If you experience pain in your joints that fit the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, be sure to see your doctor for treatment. If you experience rheumatoid arthritis and are concerned about your hearing abilities, it is important to seek a hearing test as soon as possible. It is also important to communicate with your primary care provider and discuss options for care that could be more hearing healthy.

At Audibel, we have convenient locations across the state of Louisiana and we are here to support you with all of your hearing health needs. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.