The Link Between Heart Health and Hearing Health
The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that heart disease continues to be the single leading cause of death in Australia, accounting for 12% of all reported deaths in 2016 and affecting nearly 5.5 million people. The newest research also indicates that many factors that contribute to heart health are also linked to hearing health. Most notably a study conducted by Harvard University cited a staggering relationship between heart disease and hearing loss, finding that “hearing loss occurred 54% more often in people with heart disease then in the general population.”
What is the link between heart health and hearing health?
The relatively new but well documented link between hearing health and cardiovascular health is strong, leading many professionals to believe that hearing loss may be one of the earliest indicators of heart disease.
Cardiovascular and coronary disease are diseases of the heart and blood vessels, presenting a variety of different complications including high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke, and heart attack. Many of the problems surrounding heart disease are a direct result of a condition called atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up on the arteries and narrows the arterial path, making it harder for blood to flow through the veins, arteries, and ultimately the bodily organs.
Our complex hearing systems, in particular the cochlear located in the inner ear, is extremely sensitive to blood flow and susceptible to cardiovascular abnormalities. Unlike other structures in our bodies, the inner ear does not have a backup supply of blood flow and if blood flow is inadequate, interrupted, or the vessels suffer a trauma, it can limit the supply of nutrients and oxygen and result in permanent damage to the inner ear nerves, negatively impacting a person’s ability to hear. In fact, the nerves in the inner ear are so fragile that Harvard researches believe they may be the first organ affected by cardiovascular disease.
Further, researchers at the Medical College of Wisconsin found correlations between certain audiometric patterns and arterial disease. One pattern, referred to as a reverse slope audiogram, which identifies low-frequency hearing loss, may suggest the presence or potential development of cardiovascular disease. The study prompts hearing professionals to consider making a referral to assess cardiovascular health and additional risk factors after low-frequency hearing loss has been identified.
Hearing loss is seldom found in isolation, in fact it’s often accompanied by other health conditions including cognitive decline and dementia, chronic kidney disease, and diabetes. According to audiologist Charles E. Bishop, Assistant Professor in the University of Mississippi Medical Centre’s Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences, “Hearing health should not be assessed in a vacuum. There is simply too much evidence that hearing loss is related to cardiovascular disease and other health conditions. It’s time we maximised the information we have in order to benefit the individual’s overall well-being.”
Healthy Heart > Healthier Hearing
Just as hearing loss can be an early indicator of cardiovascular disease, so too a healthy cardiovascular system can have a positive impact on hearing. According to the American Journal of Medicine, increased physical activity can improve cardiovascular health and increase blood flow to the ear, actually decreasing your risk for hearing loss. Research from Miami University also found that the higher the level of cardiovascular fitness, the better the hearing for older research participants.
In light of this link between cardiovascular health and hearing health, medical professionals now recommend annual hearing evaluations for individuals age 40 and older as part of their annual routine medical screenings. Individuals with risk factors for developing heart disease and those who have already been diagnosed should be especially vigilant about hearing health. Additional cardiovascular disease risk factors (that can also increase the risk of hearing loss) include a sedentary lifestyle, increased body mass index and a large waist circumference.
Your Healthy Heart, Healthy Hearing Plan
It’s important to adopt a lifestyle that supports both a healthy heart and healthy hearing. While heart disease, like hearing loss, is associated with increasing age, people of all ages can benefit from lifestyle changes that lower their risk factors. It’s never too late – or too early – to make lifestyle changes that will improve your heart and hearing health. A healthy heart and hearing are not only beneficial to your physical well-being but are also beneficial to a positive outcome and an optimum quality of life.
The following tips will help you on your way to developing a healthier lifestyle:
A healthy diet can benefit your heart and your overall health. Be sure to eat a wide variety of nutritious foods daily including fibre, fruits and vegetables. Choose foods that are low in saturated fats and watch your sodium intake. Nutrition experts recommend five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day, at least one serving of beans or nuts, and at least three servings of whole grains. Eating one or two servings of fish a week is also beneficial. Choosing healthier, plant-based and natural foods can also help you control your weight – another way to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Diet changes don’t have to be drastic. Even simple, small changes can make a big difference in living a better life. Introduce healthier foods a little at a time and keeping track of the proper serving sizes and the number of portions you eat, particularly when eating out.
Excess weight increases the amount of work the heart has to do. It raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, lowers HDL (‘good’) cholesterol levels and can make you more likely to develop diabetes. A study in the American Journal of Medicine also showed a significant relationship between low levels of physical activity, obesity and hearing loss.
The good news; by losing even as few as 4.5 kilos you can lower your heart disease risk. Experts agree that a combination of healthy eating and moderate exercise increases your chance of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.
Exercise for Heart Health
Even moderate activity can help reduce the risk of heart attack by helping you burn calories, control cholesterol levels and diabetes, and even lower blood pressure. By exercising just 30 minutes a day, you can reduce your risk of heart disease. Researchers recommend sitting for no more than 20 minutes at a time and standing in one position for no more than 8 minutes. You should also take a two-minute moving break at least twice an hour to stretch or walk around.
While scientific evidence is limited that high-tech motivators such as activity trackers and other smartphone apps are effective in reducing risk factors for heart disease and stroke, they do show potential to help you make healthier lifestyle choices. Self-monitoring is a key facet of changing behaviour to prevent and manage heart health.
Staying connected to friends and family can improve your mood and reduce stress. Set aside time each week to meet friends, chat on the phone with loved ones or volunteer. A study by the University Of Pittsburgh School of Medicine found that high levels of loneliness increase a person’s risk of heart disease by 76 percent.
If you find you are avoiding social situations because you are missing conversation or asking for too many repeats, make an appointment with one of our team to have your hearing checked. Left untreated hearing loss has been found to lead to withdrawal, depression and social isolation.
Get More Sleep
Sleep deprivation can increase inflammation – a key factor in the development of heart disease. If you’re not getting the required 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep per night, you may be more prone to hypertension, diabetes and other risk factors in the development of heart disease. Set a consistent bedtime and stick to it. Jot your worries on a notepad and let them go. If all else fails, a warm bath before bedtime seems to work on adults as well as children.
Have a Laugh
A good laugh can do you and your heart a lot of good. Cardiologists at the University of Maryland Medical Centre reported that laughter, along with an active sense of humour, may help protect against a heart attack. Their study found that people with heart disease were 40 percent less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease. It’s no secret that laughter lowers stress and helps build positive attitudes. If you can’t muster a belly laugh, a smile may do. Harvard researchers found that men with the most positive attitudes were half as likely to experience heart problems as those who were more negative.