Your Bone Health Is Strongly Linked to Your Hearing Health
Hearing loss goes hand in hand with many chronic health issues.
Heart health, dementia, and depression get all the press. But osteoporosis has long been known to affect hearing health.
And a more recent study concluded that osteoporosis contributes significantly to aging-related hearing loss.
So what exactly is this potentially debilitating disease that affects about 18% of people worldwide, how might it affect hearing, and what can you do about it?
Let’s dive in.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Your bones constantly renew themselves. As old bone breaks down, new bone is made. Young people’s bodies replenish bone faster than old bone breaks down.
Most people reach peak bone mass around the age of 30. Then, you start to lose bone mass more quickly than you can replace it.
With osteoporosis, you lose too much bone mass. The structure and strength of your bone tissue changes and can lead to bone fractures.
In other words:
Osteoporosis thins and weakens your bones, making you more likely to break one — especially in your spine, hip, or wrist.
Symptoms of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis is a “silent disease” — there are no symptoms until a bone is broken.
Affected bones become so fragile that a minor fall from a standing position or normal stress from bending or lifting could lead to a broken bone.
Can I get osteoporosis?
Women and men of all ages and backgrounds worldwide can develop osteoporosis, but the risk for developing it increases with age.
Some other factors include:
- Osteoporosis is more common in women than men
- Among men and women, it’s most common in non-Hispanic white people
- Some cancer medications and glucocorticoid steroids increase risk
- Low levels of estrogen in premenopausal women
- Lower levels of testosterone in men than would normally happen with aging
- Medical conditions such as celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis
But preventive measures can help keep bones healthy, strong, and more resistant to becoming fragile, weak, and brittle:
- Avoid tobacco use and excess drinking
- Adopt a regular exercise regimen approved by your doctor
- Maintain a healthy body weight, steering clear of too few or too many calories
- Eat healthfully, being sure to include protein, calcium, and vitamin D in your diet
Does Osteoporosis Cause Sudden Hearing Loss?
Whether osteoporosis causes hearing loss is a tricky thing to determine.
Coincidence or correlation?
Suppose your cat jumps on your lap every morning. Also, your neighbor goes on a walk every morning. They’re clearly related occurrences, right?
Of course not. It’s a clear coincidence. One has nothing to do with the other.
But suppose you notice many dogs at the park on days when many people at the park have sodas in their hands. The dogs and sodas must be related, right?
Does it mean that dog lovers drink more soda? Or that dogs lead to soda sales?
In all likelihood, the number of dogs and sodas both go up because of a third factor — the number of people. The more people there are at the park, the more likely it is that there will be more dogs and more sodas.
In other words, in this example, dogs and sodas are correlated — they’re somehow linked — but in this case, high dog numbers don’t cause soda sales to jump, or vice versa. It’s the number of people that causes both numbers to jump.
For a long time, that’s where scientists have been with osteoporosis and hearing health. They haven’t been ready to say that osteoporosis actually causes hearing loss, but studies have long reported a relationship — a correlation — between the two.
See the 2015 study mentioned at the beginning of this article. Researchers in Taiwan sought to quantify the risk of sudden hearing loss in patients with osteoporosis.
They studied a random representative sample of 1 million participants in Taiwan’s National Health Insurance program. Those with osteoporosis had a 1.76-fold higher risk of developing sudden sensorineural hearing loss than those without osteoporosis.
What about causation?
That brings us to the other, more recent study mentioned at the beginning of this article.
This study followed almost 144,000 women for decades — lots of participants at many ages and stages for a long time, meaning the data collected paints a powerful picture of what’s going on.
They found that “osteoporosis may be an important contributor to age-related hearing loss” and that bisphosphonates — medications that treat osteoporosis — don’t influence development of hearing loss.
Causation is hard to determine with 100% accuracy. The human body’s many systems interact in so many ways that it’s often impossible to claim causation. But this study moves us a lot closer to the goal post.
How are osteoporosis and hearing loss connected?
Right now, there are only hypotheses, with some more accepted widely than others.
One strong possibility involves the bones in your ear. You have tiny bones in your middle ear that are crucial for hearing. If osteoporosis makes them thin and weak, your hearing could be affected.
There are also bones in your inner ear that protect the nerves and hearing cells in your cochlea. If osteoporosis makes the bones weak, these structures could suffer damage, leading to hearing loss.
Another suggested possibility is that your temporal bone, which houses your middle and inner ear, becomes thinner, making those parts of your ear more susceptible to damage.
What Can You Do?
Take good care of your bones — and your ears. A causal relationship between osteoporosis and hearing loss might not be 100% conclusive, but one thing is clear: If you or a loved one has osteoporosis or is experiencing listening difficulties, it’s important to get a hearing check.
So don’t wait. Stay atop your hearing health and help catch any potential changes or problems early. Contact us to schedule a hearing evaluation today. Our caring team is here to help with all your listening needs!
Quick Facts About Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss
- Relatively common and typically referred to as “sudden deafness” or “SSHL”
- Involves rapid hearing loss in an instant or over several days
- Usually develops in one ear rather than both
- May occur together with dizziness or ringing in the ears
- Requires immediate help for greatest effectiveness of treatment
- Common treatment includes steroid therapy, but some cases resolve on their own
- Often has unknown causes, but common culprits include head injury, ototoxic drugs, infectious disease, circulation problems, thyroid disorders, and other selected conditions
We’ve got answers and we’re standing by to help.