While the exact cause is not always known, there is growing evidence that links osteoporosis and hearing loss. The hearing loss can occur gradually or in some cases suddenly. Researchers are working to better understand the connection between these conditions.
What is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is the breakdown of bone tissue causing bones to become weaker and more fragile. The bones in our body are constantly breaking down and being replaced with new bone tissue. In osteoporosis the new bone tissue isn’t able to keep up with the breakdown.
How is Osteoporosis related to Hearing Loss?
Further research is needed to determine whether osteoporosis causes hearing loss however that they are somehow linked is becoming more clear. There are several theories available to explain the connections.
The process sound takes from when it first enters the ears and eventually reaches the brain is a complex one. The eardrum converts noise into vibrations which travel through tiny bones and fluid and is transmitted with hair cells to the auditory nerve in the brain, creating sound we understand.
One of the possible relations between osteoporosis and hearing loss is those three tiny bones located in the middle ear. Because osteoporosis changes the composition of bones, it is possible that these bones are impacted as well. If they become brittle enough to break, it can cause sudden changes to hearing.
There are also bones surrounding the inner ear, including the cochlea. Changes to these outer structures may ultimately impact the surrounding areas and the ear’s function.
Signs and Symptoms
Hearing loss with osteoporosis can occur gradually or suddenly. It is important to know the signs and symptoms to look for and when to see a hearing health professional.
- Difficulty understanding– One of the most common statements made by people with hearing loss is “I can hear you, I just can’t understand you.” Difficulty understanding people, especially when there is background noise or in a dimly lit environment, can be signs of hearing loss.
- Comments from family– Family and friends may be mentioning to you that they are repeating themselves more often or that you seem to be ignoring people who are speaking to you. They may also comment on your television or radio being too loud for them.
- Withdrawal from social events– When conversations becomes more difficult, people often avoid certain situations that are challenging for them. This can be in person conversations or over the phone.
- Increase in falls- A symptom of hearing loss can be an increase in falls. This one can be particularly dangerous for those with osteoporosis where a fall can cause major bone breakage.
Prevention of Osteoporosis
If you have been diagnosed with osteoporosis, it is a good idea to speak with your healthcare provider and a hearing health provider to determine your risk for hearing loss and discuss early detection and prevention.
Due to the links described, prevention for osteoporosis can ultimately work to preserve hearing health. While certain causes such as genetics cannot be altered, these are a few of the steps you can take now to keep your bones healthy.
- Avoid tobacco and excess alcohol consumption
- Maintain a healthy diet long term including protein, calcium, and vitamin D
- Engage in regular exercise as advised by your healthcare provider
Treatment for osteoporosis often includes medications, such as bisphosphonates, as well as diet and lifestyle changes. Treatment for hearing loss typically involves hearing aids.
Hearing aids can be used in one or both ears and are made to fit your ear specifically. They are also programmable to treat the exact gaps in a person’s hearing. For example, age related hearing loss often effects higher frequencies of sound first. Hearing aids can be made and set to amplify only those frequencies being impacted.
The treatment of both osteoporosis and hearing loss will benefit your safety and lifestyle. As mentioned previously, falls are a common symptom of hearing loss and with osteoporosis, this is dangerous. By treating hearing loss, you can possibly prevent falls.
Speak with your healthcare provider if you have osteoporosis. They may recommend seeing a hearing health provider for a baseline hearing screen or they can provide further information on hearing loss related to osteoporosis.