When we think of hearing loss, you may associate it with your loved one who’s always asking you to repeat yourself, or the friend who may struggle to follow conversations.
Hearing loss is often caused by exposure to excessive noise and is even linked to the natural aging process. But did you know that hearing loss isn’t just caused by your loud job, or the blaring music at the concert ?
Along with lesser known causes of hearing loss like smoking and diabetes, a recent study found a link between hearing loss and rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory disease that affects many seniors, though young people can also suffer from the disease. Around 1.5 million Americans have RA, and this number continues to rise. RA is an autoimmune disease, which means that the immune system turns against the body. Rather than protecting the body from sicknesses by warding off viral and bacterial infections, the immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling, inflammation, and pain. RA can damage cartilage and tissue around the joints, disform the joints, and even damage the bone. It becomes painful to move the affected joints, and leads to reduced mobility, and difficulty performing normal daily tasks.
Linking Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Clinical trials looking at the links between hearing loss and arthritis found far higher rates of hearing loss among those with arthritis. Those with RA were more likely to have sensorineural hearing loss, hearing loss associated with the ear and not the brain. Delicate cells in the inner ear are damaged in this type of hearing loss, and once these cells are damaged, they don’t regenerate. You’ll be unable to hear certain sounds in the environment, since the cells in the ear responsible for those sounds have been destroyed.
A 2006 study found that around 43% of those with RA had hearing loss! And a study from the Mayo Clinic, reported that even though they weren’t able to detect measurably higher rates of hearing loss among those with RA, their patients with RA were far more likely to perceive that they had hearing loss.
How does RA Lead to Hearing Loss?
Researchers are still unclear on the how rheumatoid arthritis and hearing loss are linked. However, it’s clear that RA can attack other body systems, not just the joints, so the cells in the ear can also be affected by this disease.
Another link could be the drugs used to treat the pain that goes hand in hand with arthritis. Many studies have found that common pain killers, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause hearing loss. Even taking these pain killers two or more days per week was linked to worse hearing health, while those who took pain killers six days a week had a 24% higher risk of hearing loss than those who didn’t take pain killers. Those suffering from RA often take a lot of painkillers just to get through the day, and these drugs are known to reduce blood flow and deprive the cells in the inner ear of the oxygen and nutrients they need to survive.
Treating Rheumatoid Arthritis
While doctors can’t cure RA, they all agree that treating the disease as soon as possible is essential for good health outcomes. Treating RA stops inflammation, prevents further joint damage or deformity, and relieves pain. It also improves overall well-being by allowing for increased mobility and physical function. Treatments include medications to ease symptoms, as well as to reduce inflammation and slow joint damage.
Self-management is also important when it comes to RA, and your doctor will help you be proactive in managing the disease and maintaining your overall quality of life. Eating well, exercising often and resting, using heat pads, and learning relaxation techniques all play a role in self-management.
Treating Hearing Loss
If you’ve been struggling to hear, and think it may be linked to your RA, call your local hearing center.
May is Arthritis Awareness Month