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Understanding hearing loss often means looking at the relationship between hearing challenges and other health issues. Contemporary research is showing previously overlooked connections between hearing loss and other chronic health conditions. One example of this new knowledge is recent large-scale medical studies from Korea and Taiwan that have found a significant link between osteoporosis and the onset of sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
What Is Osteoporosis?
Osteoporosis is a disease where bone mass is reduced and bone strength weakens. It is associated with aging and can cause unexpected bone fractures. When bone mass drops, bones have less structural integrity and can break far easier. The hallmark of osteoporosis is bone fragility and until bone fractures occur, osteoporosis often goes undiagnosed.
Because osteoporosis can lead to bone fractures – especially in the hip, wrist and spine- it is also associated with chronic pain. Some people with osteoporosis develop a hunched back caused by compression fracturing in the spine. Risk of osteoporosis is at least 4 times greater for women than men, with older Asian and Caucasian women running the highest risk of developing the disease. Other risk factors include being malnourished or underweight, a sedentary lifestyle and low vitamin D levels. Regular exercise and proper nutrition are commonly viewed as the best preventative measures to take against osteoporosis.
What Is Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss?
Sudden sensorineural hearing loss, also known as SSNHL, is the rapid onset of hearing impairment, technically defined as the loss of 30 decibels of hearing sensitivity in the span of three days or less. Those who experience SSNHL notice dramatic changes to their hearing and sometimes a “popping” sound before hearing drops out. The rapid hearing changes brought on by SSNHL are often accompanied by tinnitus and vertigo.
SSNHL most often affects a single ear rather than both ears simultaneously. It is also more likely to occur as we age. People in their fifties are more than three times more likely to experience SSNHL than people in their twenties. Unlike gradual noise-related hearing loss, it is possible for people with SSNHL to fully recover their hearing. The likelihood of hearing restoration favors younger people experiencing SSNHL and usually occurs within a two-week period from the time of onset.
A new Korean medical study published this past Spring looked at health data from over 68,000 subjects. Participants in the study were identified from their medical records and insurance data and records of treatment for SSNHL. Comparing patients over the age of 50 with and without osteoporosis, the study found that those with osteoporosis were 40% more likely to experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss.
The findings of the Korean study correlate with numbers reported in earlier research coming out of Taiwan. While the numbers definitely show a connection between sudden hearing loss and osteoporosis, the relationship between the two conditions remains unclear. Looking for causes and effects will be pursued in further research rather than with these initial findings. For now, it is important that people with osteoporosis and those in the medical field recognize the elevated risk of SSNHL with osteoporosis.
Although a 40% risk increase is a dramatic spike, the overall risk of sudden hearing loss remains relatively low. In the general population between the ages of 50 and 60, roughly 15 people out of 100,000 will face SSNHL. In the general adult population of the study, 0.5% of people without osteoporosis developed sudden hearing loss. That rate jumped to 0.8% for subjects with osteoporosis.
Your Hearing Health
Any sudden change in your hearing is a serious concern. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is uncommon, but certainly shouldn’t be ignored. Seeing a hearing specialist at the onset of SSNHL can give you access to medical care that supports hearing recovery. Additionally, a hearing specialist can help treat permanent hearing loss. Managing hearing loss with hearing aids and assistive devices helps alleviate the stress hearing loss causes and improves quality of life.
Staying on top of your hearing health is important, that’s why Hearing Health specializes in comprehensive hearing care. From testing to analysis to solutions and support, Hearing Health places your needs at the center of your care. We take into account related conditions and lifestyle factors when coming up with plans for managing hearing issues thoroughly and effectively. When you have a hearing concern, reach out to us at Hearing Health.