Anorexia, Bulimia and Your Hearing Health

Anorexia and bulimia nervosa are two disorders that do not receive as much attention as they deserve. Both life-threatening conditions affect people all over the world. Over time, these two disorders can affect your organs, skin, hair, eyes and even ears. In support of National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we’re providing some information on these disorders and why it is important to promote a healthy attitude toward eating.

How is your body affected?

Anorexia can be described as self-starvation and extreme weight loss. Warning signs of the disorder range from dramatic weight loss and denial of hunger, to excessive exercise and comments about feeling “fat” even with obvious weight loss. This condition can take a toll on your body if it is continuously deprived of the nutrients needed to function. Some consequences include:

  • Overall body weakness
  • Abnormally slow heart rate and low blood pressure
  • Severe dehydration (leads to kidney failure)
  • Osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • Hair loss and dry skin/hair

While anorexia can affect numerous systems of the body, a rare condition called autophonia can also occur. Autophonia causes your normal upper-body sounds, such as your voice and respiration, to sound “strange” or “abnormal”. The condition is a result of rapid weight loss and occurs when too much body fat is lost around the neck, resulting in a patulous (spread out) Eustachian tube. When this tube, which connects your ears, nose, and throat, remains open when it should normally close, you will hear sounds like your breathing directly in your ears, along with other body noises. This malfunction in the Eustachian tube has also been linked to tinnitus symptoms and general sound distortion.

Bulimia is a cycle of binge eating resulting in “purging” or self-induced vomiting. It’s common for bulimics to consume large amounts of food in a short period, experience swollen cheeks or jaws, show discoloration or staining of their teeth, and even perform random rituals to make time for binges. Just like anorexia, this disorder comes with consequences that can include:

  • Damage of the digestive system
  • Tooth decay and staining
  • Electrolyte imbalance (can lead to irregular heartbeat and heart failure)
  • Irregular bowel movements

Promote a healthy lifestyle

Eating disorders can be very concerning, especially if they’re affecting a friend or family member. To support those who may be battling an eating disorder, consider these supportive tips:

  • Build self-esteem with positive comments – Without focusing on physical appearance, mention positive things about their character, talents, and accomplishments.
  • Do not encourage jokes on body image– Always be reassuring that someone’s worth is not a result of looks.
  • Stop labeling food as “bad” or “junk” – Doing this can create guilt about eating certain foods. This way of thinking can lead to restrictive eating and binging. The goal is to have a healthy balance of eating nutritious foods regularly and occasionally allowing for less nutritious foods.
  • Serve as a healthy role model – Set an example by eating normally and being physically active, and exhibiting healthy behavior.

If someone you know is suffering with their self-image, it’s important to remind them that they are not alone. Constant support and encouragement can help a friend or family member cope with an eating disorder, and even reduce the likelihood of one developing.