September 29 is World Heart Day. Started by the World Heart Federation, it serves as the largest platform for raising awareness about cardiovascular disease. This global event encourages us to take charge of our heart health and support our loved ones’ attempts to make heart-healthy decisions. This year’s theme is “Power Your Life” and suggests taking simple steps like eating healthier, reducing alcohol consumption, and smoking cessation in order to “fuel our hearts and power our lives.”
Most of us understand why taking care of our heart is important, but far fewer realize that hearing ability is an often-ignored barometer of heart health. The following are just a few reasons why medical professionals believe hearing loss and cardiovascular issues overlap:
- More than 60 years of research points to a correlation between cardiovascular and hearing health. An impaired cardiovascular system affects both the peripheral and central auditory system. Conversely, improved cardiovascular health appears to result in better hearing, as supported by a sizable body of research.
- Some experts consider hearing ability a “window” into heart health, as the earliest symptoms of insufficient blood flow often include hearing loss. This is due to the extreme sensitivity of the cochlea to lack of adequate blood supply, resulting in loss of vital hair cells, and with them hearing ability. Many of these experts have encouraged hearing care professionals to include cardiovascular health in a patient’s case history, along with blood pressure tracking and forging relationships with cardiac care physicians to share patient information.
- Three studies on modifiable behaviors reached similar conclusions — the same lifestyle choices that affect heart health also impact hearing. One found that women with a higher level of physical activity experienced a reduced risk of hearing loss. Another concluded that smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke were more likely to have hearing difficulties. The third determined that women who consumed an increased amount of long-chain Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (as found in fish) had a lower risk of hearing loss. Exercise, avoiding smoking, and eating more Omega-3 fatty acids are known to improve cardiovascular health, as well.
While studies into all the links between heart health and hearing ability are ongoing, clearly there is enough evidence that they are interrelated to merit serious consideration. So, if you find your hearing isn’t what it used to be, we encourage you to ask your primary care physician to assess your overall cardiovascular health. And by the same logic, if you have already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, arrange a visit to a hearing care professional to have your hearing tested and treated.