Sleep Apnea And Hearing Loss: Studies Show A Connection

Sleep is not always easy to come by. From anxiety to stress to insomnia, Americans aren’t sleeping enough. According to a survey published in the journal Sleep, 32.9 per cent of respondents self-reported lack of sleep in 2017. As if that wasn’t bad enough, it’s estimated that 22 million Americans suffer from a sleep disorder called sleep apnea. Not only does it interfere with sleep but it can lead to many health conditions like high blood pressure, stroke and heart failure. New research indicates that it could even affect hearing. While more studies need to be done, there seems to be a pretty good link between sleep apnea and hearing loss.

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What Is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a sleep disorder where breathing starts and stops. There are three kinds – obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), the more common form where throat tissues relax and collapse to the back of the throat, blocking airflow; central sleep apnea where the brain doesn’t send proper signals to muscles that control breathing; and complex sleep apnea syndrome, which is a mix of OSA and central sleep apnea.

The risk factors of sleep apnea are:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Narrowed airway
  • Nasal congestion
  • Consumption of alcohol
  • Family history

Sleep apnea is a potentially serious disorder. If left untreated, it can lead to daytime sleepiness, fatigue, cardiovascular problems and complications with medication and surgery. Now, research shows that there’s a correlation between sleep apnea and hearing.

What Does The Research Say?

In a study, Dr Jau-Jiuan Sheu, of Taipei Medical University Hospital and his researchers went through the health records of more than a million Taiwanese. They found that 3,200 were diagnosed with sudden deafness between the years of 2000 and 2008. For each of the people, they selected five people of the same age and gender without hearing loss for comparison. Out of the 19,000 people, 240 were diagnosed with sleep apnea before sudden deafness occurred. After more examination, the researchers found that men with sudden deafness were 48 per cent more likely to have had a previous sleep apnea diagnosis than men without hearing loss. In another study, researchers from various institutions examined nearly 14,000 participants to determine if there was an association between sleep apnea and hearing impairment. Results of the study showed that 9.9 per cent of the participants had sleep apnea and 32.3 per cent had a hearing impairment. When adjusted for risk factors for hearing impairment, participants with sleep apnea had 30 per cent higher odds of having some type of hearing impairment. The researchers concluded that sleep apnea is associated with both high and low-frequency hearing impairment, independent of snoring and other confounders.

What’s The Verdict?

While there is a link between sleep apnea and hearing loss, experts say that it doesn’t prove causation. It’s not clear if sleep apnea comes before hearing loss or hearing loss comes before sleep apnea. More research needs to be conducted. Until then, people with sleep apnea should get themselves checked for hearing loss since the two appear to be connected.

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Kori Theusch | Published on Thursday, November 13, 2018

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How Can You Manage Sleep Apnea?

Milder cases of sleep apnea can typically be treated with lifestyle changes like maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, quitting smoking, reducing alcohol, and sleeping on the side. For more serious cases, a doctor will recommend using a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) device. It pushes air through the airway to encourage uninterrupted breathing. If none of these treatments works, doctors may recommend surgery. The surgery increases the size of the airway by removing excess throat tissues, the tonsils, and adenoids.

The lifestyle changes mentioned above are meant to help people with sleep apnea sleep better. By doing so, they can stave off many of the health conditions brought on by poor sleep. Along with these lifestyle changes, there’s one more that should be made: using a good mattress. It has a direct impact on sleep quality. The Nuvanna mattress is designed to promote better sleep through its triple-layer construction. Created by a materials scientist with more than 20 years of experience, it features a top cooling layer to regulate body temperature, a middle motion-isolating layer to prevent motion from being transferred across the bed, and a supportive bottom layer that aligns the spine and supports each part of the body. It positions the neck to prevent it from falling back, which can otherwise cause the throat tissues to collapse and block the airway.

Sleep apnea, even if mild, should always be treated. Losing out on sleep and potentially losing your hearing and your health is a gamble not worth taking. If you or someone you know has sleep apnea, consider getting checked for hearing loss. Make changes to your lifestyle and seek professional treatment if needed.

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