A Link Between Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis

A Link Between Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis

In hearing health, hearing loss by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Hearing loss affects approximately 48 million people in the US and is more than just an ear issue. Hearing loss affects how you relate to others, your self confidence, self esteem and physical health. When we can hear and communicate confidently, you can be more likely to succeed in social situations, and in physical activity. 

The more active we are, the more our physical and mental health excell. Untreated hearing loss has been connected to many other chronic health conditions including diabetes and hypertension. Now researchers are finding clear connections that suggest that rheumatoid arthritis and hearing loss have a significant effect on each other.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease, which affects around 1.5 million Americans of all ages but seniors in greatest numbers. RA occurs when the immune system begins to attack the body making it a serious autoimmune disease. Instead of protecting the body’s joints they are left open to viral and bacterial infections causing swelling inflammation and chronic pain across the moving parts of the body. As rheumatoid arthritis progresses it can sustain damage to cartilage and tissue around the joints, deforming and permanently damaging bones and joints. Simple activities and tasks can become painful as RA continues to become worse. 

Treatments for Rheumatoid Arthritis

While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, doctors are finding that using medications known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs can calm some symptoms of RA. In the meantime it is common to rely on anti inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen and naproxen sodium to temporarily relieve swelling. 

Other treatments for RA include steroids to relieve swelling and biological agents. Biological agents, also known as biologic response modifiers, target parts of the immune system that trigger inflammation that causes joint and tissue damage 

Hearing Loss and Blood Flow

Sensorineural hearing loss is hearing loss caused by damage to the tiny hair cells of the inner ear called cilia. These tiny hairs are microscopic and designed to pick up audio information and send it to the brain as electrical signals for the brain to process. These hairs can be damaged by loud noise, old age, head trauma and certain medications. They also rely on an ample supply of blood to stay healthy. When blood flow is compromised due to diabetes or hypertension then these hairs can become damaged or destroyed.

Unfortunately, once these hairs are damaged they can not be grown back. Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent. Another serious cause of this type of permanent hearing loss are ototoxic medications. Some ototoxic medications include anti inflammatory drugs and steroids, which are used commonly in treating rheumatoid arthritis.

How does Rheumatoid Arthritis Lead to Hearing Loss?

The instances of people suffering from RA in conjunction with hearing loss are too common to be a coincidence.  Clinical trials exploring this link found much higher rates of hearing loss in patients who also lived with RA. 

A 2006 study reported 43% of patients with RA also had sensorineural hearing loss. While the connection between RA and hearing loss is not clear, researchers speculate that RA can attack other systems of the body besides the joints, potentially affecting cells in the ears. Another strong connection between RA and hearing loss is the ototoxic medications commonly used to treat arthritis.  

Studies show that taking these anti-inflammatory medications even two or more days per week had the potential to affect hearing health negatively. These medications are helpful in reducing pain but also reduce blood flow and deprive the cells in the inner ear of their vital blood supply.

Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hearing Loss As Soon As Possible

While there is no cure for RA or Hearing Loss, the sooner you treat both of these conditions, the better your chances of improving the quality of your life. Many treatments for RA slow inflammation and joint damage, ensuring that you can minimize discomfort and stay active for longer. 

Hearing loss is most commonly treated with hearing aids, which supplement for the damage incurred to the inner ear, sending electrical currents to the auditory cortex to be picked up by the brain. 

When you treat hearing loss before it progresses you can avoid many of the damaging social, emotional and physical side effects of hearing loss. Make an appointment to deal with your hearing loss, so you can get back to enjoying the things in life that bring you joy.