It has long been understood that iron plays a critical role in how the human body functions. Now, researchers have found a distinct link between iron deficiency and hearing loss.
Late last year, a team from the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine published their findings in the JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery. Examining data from over 305,000 adult participants, the researchers found that adults with iron deficiency anemia (IDA) were 82% more likely to have permanent, sensorineural hearing loss than subjects without iron deficiency. IDA subjects were even more likely to have combined hearing loss – where indicators of both sensorineural and conductive hearing problems are found.
Hearing loss works differently depending on where it is found in the ear. Conductive hearing loss indicates blockages, allergies or infection in the outer ear or ear canal. Hearing impairment that is determined to be conductive can oftentimes be repaired through medication, cleaning, or surgery.
Sensorineural hearing loss, by contrast, is irreversible hearing loss that occurs when the delicate apparatus of the inner ear or auditory nerve pathways are damaged, permanently disrupting the process of hearing. The inner ear contains delicate hair cells that detect the specific vibrations of sound. Auditory nerve pathways connect the perceived sound vibrations to the brain, where they are interpreted. Damage to nerve pathways disconnects the brain and the ear in fundamental ways.
Combined hearing loss is impairment that is caused by factors that are both conductive and sensorineural. The onset of all types of hearing loss often occurs gradually and can be hard to detect. The risk of experiencing hearing loss increases as we age, when damage to our hearing becomes more frequent and the mechanisms of the ear become more fragile.
Iron deficiency anemia is a common condition where iron levels in the blood are too low to properly facilitate oxygen transportation throughout the body. The most common symptom of IDA is fatigue, as well as weakness, short breath and loss of appetite. Most symptoms of IDA are temporary and disappear when iron levels in the blood are increased but now contemporary medicine is starting to build a picture of lasting damage iron deficiency can do to our bodies.
Iron is responsible for the amount of hemoglobin in our blood, which is responsible for distributing oxygen throughout the body. A lack of iron consequently results in our bodies being starved for oxygen, and manifests as physical exhaustion.
The Penn State research team has proposed a hypothesis on what connects iron deficiency anemia to hearing loss. When hemoglobin levels drop, insufficient oxygen can damage sensitive tissue in the body, a condition called “ischemia”. Ischemia related to IDA has been shown to affect the muscles of the heart. The Penn State study reflects that ischemia may also be affecting the inner ear, corroding its delicate nerves and hair cells.
Iron deficiency anemia is very common and can happen to anyone. If you think you are experiencing the symptoms of anemia, your first step is to consult with your physician. Anemia can usually be treated with iron supplements; however, supplements should not be taken without a doctor’s recommendation. Just as too little iron can cause damage, too much iron in the body can harm organs that filter blood, like the liver and kidneys. Taking excessive iron without a diagnosed deficiency can be detrimental to your overall health.
Most people receive a balanced amount of iron through their food. Iron is found in leafy green vegetables, all types of meat and seafood, fortified cereals, dried fruits, and legumes, like peas and beans. To maintain healthy iron levels, be sure to include iron-rich foods in your diet when planning meals.
Understanding your iron level and recognizing the signs of iron deficiency anemia can potentially help reduce your risk of hearing loss. Supplemental iron does not have the power to restore hearing that has already been damaged, but if you experience IDA, supplemental iron taken with a physician’s guidance, can be an important preventative step in preventing conditions like ischemia.
The Penn State study concludes that finding the connection is the first step in a medical process. Further study will be needed to deepen an understanding of the causes and connections between iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss.
If you have questions or have noticed issues with your hearing, connect with us at Arizona Balance & Hearing Aids. Our hearing specialists are here to help you on the path to better hearing health.[/cs_text][/cs_column][/cs_row][/cs_section][/cs_content]