New Study Finds Sleep Apnea May Cause Hearing Loss

Daytime drowsiness is a known sign of sleep apnea. But new research suggests the condition also could be to blame for hearing loss.

Daytime drowsiness is a known sign of sleep apnea. But new research suggests the condition also could be to blame for hearing loss.

The known effects of sleep apnea are many, including a diminished sleep quality, headaches, memory and concentration problems, mood swings, dry mouth, sore throat, inflammation, and cardiovascular and endocrine problems. But results of a new study may add another ailment to the list of sleep apnea symptoms – hearing loss.

Researchers conducting the study found that sleep apnea was associated with hearing impairment in study participants at both high and low frequencies. Results also suggest that the connection between sleep apnea and hearing loss may involve a combination of factors that cause inflammation and abnormal functioning in the blood vessels may play a role.

Upward of 18 million American have sleep apnea, according to statistics from the National Sleep Foundation. It’s primarily marked by loud snoring with periods of gasping or snorting noises, and disrupted sleep that can leave you fatigued throughout the day and make day-to-day tasks difficult or even dangerous. For instance, car crashes caused by drivers falling asleep at the wheel result in a higher number of fatalities than do accident attributed to other causes.

Researchers reviewed data from nearly 14,000 US participants who completed in-home sleep studies and audiometric (hearing) testing and found that sleep apnea was associated with:

  • A 31-percent increase in high frequency hearing impairment;
  • A 90-percent increase in low frequency hearing impairment;
  • A38-percent increase in both high and low frequency hearing loss.

The researchers’ findings lend support to the premises that sleep apnea likely does not occur in isolation, but instead may be a cumulative result of multiple underlying health conditions and lifestyle choices. Risk factors can include excessive weight, advanced age, smoking, use of alcohol, sedatives or tranquilizers and even race.

“Sleep apnea is more of a systemic and chronic disease than just something that happens when you’re sleeping,” said one of the study’s authors, Dr. Neomi Shah, an associate director of the pulmonary sleep lab at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.

If you believe you or someone you love may have sleep apnea, understand that it is indeed a chronic condition that may require lifelong management. But with proper and consistent treatment, you (and your spouse) can finally enjoy the kind of solid, restorative sleep that’s critical to your overall health, safety and quality of life.