Grand Opening Sale
Special Financing Available

Hearing and Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea has long been associated with a number of serious medical conditions, including obesity, diabetes, risk of stroke and cardiovascular problems, but scientists from Albany Medical Center have recently added another side effect to the long list of health concerns: hearing loss.

According to the results of a recent study, the estimated 18 million Americans who are suffering from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder that involves the sufferer stopping their breathing repeatedly throughout the night, may also be suffering hearing loss at both the low registers and high registers. 

Sleep apnea is caused by a relaxation of the muscles of the soft palate and throat during times when the body is asleep. As the tissue relaxes during sleep, the airway shuts down and the body and brain are robbed of oxygen. In response, after a short period of time the brain issues a sort of panic alert that jolts the body into a brief period of wakefulness. The sleeper gasps for air, then relaxes again. In most cases a person who is suffering from sleep apnea is completely unaware that this is going on, and the condition is usually diagnosed either based upon the complaints of a sleep partner or by the overwhelming daytime sleepiness that the person experiences. At its most severe, sleep apnea can occur hundreds of times per night, and puts severe stress on the body.

In their study, researchers from Albany Medical Center led by lead author Amit Chopra, MD worked with almost 14,000 volunteers from the Hispanic community. Their findings were startling. “We found that sleep apnea was independently associated with hearing impairment at both high and low frequencies after adjustment for other possible causes of hearing loss,” Chopra said.

Of those surveyed, 9.9 percent were diagnosed with moderate sleep apnea or sleep apnea that was more severe. Nearly 20 percent had high frequency hearing loss, 1.5 percent had low frequency hearing loss and just over 8 percent had loss in both ranges. They also determined that this hearing loss appeared more frequently in those of either Cuban or Puerto Rican heritage, as well as in those with a higher BMI (body mass index). Of most interest was the association between sleep apnea and the hearing loss, with 31 percent of apnea sufferers suffering from high frequency hearing impairment, 90 percent of apnea sufferers showing low frequency hearing impairment, and 38 percent of those who had both ranges impaired.

According to Chopra, “Patients with sleep apnea are at increased risk for a number of comorbidities, including heart disease and diabetes, and our findings indicate that sleep apnea is also associated with increased risk of hearing impairment. The mechanisms underlying this relationship merit further exploration. Potential pathways linking sleep apnea and hearing impairment may include adverse effects of sleep apnea on vascular supply to the cochlea via inflammation and vascular remodeling or noise trauma from snoring.”

Leave a Reply

Back to Top