Heart Health and Hearing: An Unlikely Relationship

It might seem a little strange that your audiologist is interested in your heart health. Yes, she thinks you’re wonderful and wants you to be healthy, but she also knows that there is a direct relationship between your hearing and your cardiovascular health.

What’s The Link?

Your inner ear (cochlea) is tiny! About the size of an aspirin tablet. And that tiny little organ contains about 35,000 nerve endings and needs a fresh supply of well oxygenated blood to stay healthy. Because the blood vessels in the cochlea are so small, the blood cells must line up single file to navigate through the system. You can just imagine how any changes in heart or circulatory health will have a dramatic impact on the health of the ear.

What’s The Fuss?

Hearing loss is not as straightforward as some might think. Sure, there is a reduction in the volume of some sounds, depending on the hearing loss. However, keep in mind that it isn’t the ear that is hearing. The ear just sends the signal to the brain. It is the brain (the auditory cortex) that does the hard work. If the ear isn’t working properly and the auditory cortex (central auditory system) isn’t receiving accurate information, then the brain must work even harder to hear and understand speech. Our brains can only process so much information at one time. If we are working harder to hear and understand speech, then we tend to miss other things — speed and accuracy are impaired. In addition, vascular damage from heart disease isn’t limited to your inner ear; the damage is also occurring in the areas of the bran that are responsible for comprehension and memory.

What’s The Fix?

There is relatively new and compelling evidence that suggests controlling heart disease and identifying and treating high blood pressure early can stop the deterioration of the inner ear — and possibly reverse some of the damage. Of course, a good diet, exercise, and regular check-ups are key.

Keep your audiologist informed of any changes in health or medication, and always tell your doctor if you have any risk factors for heart disease. It will certainly save your life and, by helping your hearing, will make your relationships stronger.


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