Osteoporosis and Sudden Hearing Loss

Osteoporosis and Sudden Hearing Loss

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

Osteoporosis is a progressive metabolic disorder where bone is broken down faster than the body can replace it. When this happens, your bones become quite weak and are then more prone to being broken. It is a relatively common disorder—it affects around 40 million men and women and, though it affects people of all races, it is particularly common amongst white and Asian women. This leads to bones being structurally weak, and more prone to breaking.

New research being conducted worldwide has shown that there may be links to the fragile bones that osteoporosis can produce and hearing loss. A large study looking at the risk of sudden sensorineural hearing loss that was conducted in Taiwan found that people who have been diagnosed with osteoporosis have nearly twice the risk of developing hearing loss as people who do not have osteoporosis.

Studies Linking Hearing Loss and Osteoporosis

Sudden onset hearing loss usually happens in only one ear, and occurs all at once or over the course of a few days. The cause for this hearing loss is usually never known—what doctors typically describe as “idiopathic.” There are however a small number of cases where a cause may be determined, and research like into osteoporosis is suggesting some significant findings. The 2015 study was conducted using data collected from Taiwan’s National Health Insurance. Kai-Jen Tien, MD, of Chi Mei Medical Center, and colleagues in Taiwan presented their results in the April 2015 issue of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Through their work, they found that shown that people with osteoporosis are 76 percent more likely to develop sudden onset hearing loss.

The 2015 study complements research done in 2013 at the University of Illinois that found links between osteoporosis and gradual hearing loss. Researchers revealed a link between osteoporosis and conductive hearing loss. They determined that there was causation between hearing loss and the demineralization of the three middle ear bones, including the stapes. The researchers in Taiwan built upon research like that, building a larger sample size and exploring complaints that patients with osteoporosis often flagged that their hearing was declining. To conduct their study, Dr. Kai-Jen Tien and their team compared 10,000 people who were diagnosed with osteoporosis between 1999 and 2008 to 32,000 people who did not have the condition. 89 percent of the subjects were women. People with osteoporosis were generally 76 percent more likely to develop sensorineural hearing loss. Interestingly, the results for women were quite grave, as women with osteoporosis were found to 87 percent more likely to develop sensorineural hearing loss than the general population.

So Young Kim, MD, is in the department of otorhinolaryngology, head and neck surgery, at CHA Bundang Medical Center in Seongnam, South Korea. Along with colleagues, Dr. Kim also investigated the links between osteoporosis and hearing loss in a study they conducted of 68,241 patients aged at least 50 years who had been diagnosed with osteoporosis between 2002 and 2013. They note that, generally, the sudden onset of sensorineural hearing loss is estimated to occur in 27 per 100,000 people in the U.S. and 15 per 100,000 people in South Korea. In the study, they wrote that “Many factors, such as vascular and metabolic dysfunctions, have been suggested as risk factors for [sudden sensory neural hearing loss] …The cochlea and internal auditory nerve are encased in hard and compact petrous temporal bone. In addition, the calcium ionic flow in and stereocilia of the cochlea orchestrate their activities to maintain mechano-electrical transduction in the cochlea. Therefore, it may be that bone metabolism has a crucial impact on auditory function.”

It might be that anti-osteoporotic therapies that are meant to reduce the risk of fracture and improve bone quality in patients with osteoporosis may also reduce the risk of sensorineural hearing loss. Until further research is conducted on the relationships of osteoporosis to hearing loss, however, it simply pays to be attentive to bone health and bone density. As Dr. Tien writes,

“More people worldwide are suffering from osteoporosis, and our work shows they are at risk of sensorineural hearing loss as well as bone fracture and other problems…Patients who have osteoporosis should be aware they need to seek medical help immediately if they experience hearing loss.”

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