A Link Between Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis

A Link Between Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis

In Hearing Health, Hearing Loss, Hearing Loss Related Disease, Research by Bary E. Williams Au.D.

Do you suffer from soar joints that can make it hard to do small tasks and stay motivated to remain active? This could signal the presence of rheumatoid arthritis, a condition which affects about 1.3 million adults in the United States. Worldwide, it is estimated to occur in up to 1 percent of the population! The disease starts most commonly between the ages of 30 and 50, though it can begin at any age. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease, in which your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in your body, causing inflammation, joint pain, stiffness, swelling and decreased movement of the joints. 

RA can be debilitating causing chronic joint pain, limiting dexterity and movement. However, a lesser recognized connection is RA’s effect on your hearing. Because RA targets the bones of your body, the bones of your ear may also be at risk.

Understanding How We Hear

While sound is collected in our ears, it must be delivered to the brain in order to be comprehended and identified. It delivers sound via tiny hair-like cells which transmit audio waves into electrical impulses which can be received by the brain. However, before soundwave reach these cells they must be amplified by the eardrum and the tinniest bones in the entire body. The ossicles are made of three of the smallest bones in the body and they send vibrations from the eardrum to the cochlea- as snail shaped, fluid filled organ which houses the hair cells which sends sound to the brain. It’s believed that RA may contribute to hearing loss by affecting the tiny bones, joints, and cartilage in the inner ear.

What the Studies Show

First identified as a risk to hearing by the Arthritis Foundation in 2006, further research has commenced to solidify the connection between hearing loss and RA.

A 2016 study sought to further this connection. The study researchers explains: “Patients with RA are at higher risk of hearing impairment compared to healthy subjects in their course of the disease. The hearing impairment in RA seems to be a multifactorial condition. However, the mechanisms of injury, as well as the relative risk factors, are not completely clear.”

Understanding the Connection

It’s been documented that of the 1 percent of the world population who has RA, 75 percent has some degree of sensorineural hearing loss! Hearing loss is incredibly more likely as we age. One in three over the age of 65 have hearing loss and this number jumps to one in two for those 75 years and older. While RA affect people of all ages it is more common with age as well making both symptoms often overlap.

Another theory around the prevalence of hearing loss in patients with rheumatoid arthritis is the medications which are common with chronic joint pain. It’s very common for people with joint pain and RA to take anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, to reduce swelling and relive pain. However, studies have found that taking these over-the-counter medications multiple times in a week can have negative effects on your hearing ability. These medications are ototoxic when taken in constituent and higher doses. This means that they can damage blood flow to the tiny cells of the inner ear.

Searching for a Solid Connection

In 2006, the Mayo Clinic published an article stating there is no true link between RA and hearing loss, and that RA patients are simply more likely to perceive and report hearing loss than those without.

“I know I have to have some hearing loss. The constant ringing in my ears drives me insane,” said Chassy Wells of British Columbia, who experiences RA. “But my rheumatologist doesn’t think there’s a link.”

Meanwhile researchers are on a journey to connect both conditions. With a percentage of 75 percent of people with RA being affected by sensorineural heairng loss as well, it’s unlikely that it’s simply a coincidence.

If you have RA there is a chance that you may have hearing loss as well. Have your hearing checked as soon as possible. Your hearing health is important! Contact us today!

Bary E. Williams Au.D.