Connecting the ears and the heart

February was American Heart Month. If you were like a lot of people and took part in screenings or online assessments — like University Health System’s Heart Health Profiler — you might have found that you have heart problems, or are at risk for them.

If so, now is also a good time to have your hearing checked.

What does your heart have to do with your ears? A healthy heart has a positive effect on hearing. Dr. David Friedland at the Medical College of Wisconsin has been studying the relationship between cardiovascular health, high blood pressure and hearing function. If there is an interruption in blood flow to the cochlea, our organ of hearing, hearing loss may result.

In fact, Dr. Friedland believes that hearing loss, particularly in the low-frequency region, may be one of the first symptoms of cardiovascular abnormalities.  Another study found that almost 80 percent of people who have had heart attacks also have hearing loss. While not all hearing losses are caused by cardiovascular issues, the correlation is impressive.

Do you smoke? A study regarding smoking and hearing loss found that 70 percent of people who smoke have hearing loss.

So how does hearing loss happen? Our cochlea is a snail-shaped structure in each of our ears that contains millions of tiny hair cells. In order to function properly, the cochlea needs a good supply. Hearing loss may result when blood flow to the cochlea is reduced.

Not all hearing loss can be prevented. However, a study done by researchers at Wisconsin University found that people who exercised at least once a week were 32 percent less likely to suffer from hearing loss than people who did not exercise. Now is the time to take action! It’s easy if you follow these simple guidelines:

  • Eat nutritious meals
  • Ask your physician about an exercise program
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Avoid smoking
  • Work with your health care provider about managing your cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar

Start the path to healthy living today. Your heart and your ears will thank you.

Michelle Tejada, AuD, is manager of audiology services at University Health System 

Photo by Viktor Hanacek, Picjumbo