Medical researchers have often studied possible connections between various health conditions such as osteoporosis and hearing loss. As studies have been completed, it has become increasingly obvious that hearing loss does not always occur on its own. Rather, it can occur with, and often be related to, another medical condition such as hypertension, diabetes and possibly even osteoporosis.
One question that researchers continue to investigate is whether or not there is a definite connection between osteoporosis and hearing loss. Let’s take a look at each condition and then see what research on the topic has revealed.
What is hearing loss?
According to the World Health Organization, someone with hearing loss is “a person who is not able to hear as well as someone with normal hearing – hearing thresholds of 20 dB or better in both ears.”
There are a variety of causes for hearing loss including:
- Continued exposure to loud noise (noise-induced hearing loss)
- Genetic factors
- Chronic ear infections or other infections such as meningitis
- Ear or head trauma
- Ototoxic medications
- Age-related sensorineural change
The list of causes goes on and on, but one thing is certain. Hearing loss affects people of all genders, ages, backgrounds, socioeconomic status, and ethnicity, and it is a growing problem.
What is osteoporosis?
In contrast, osteoporosis is a condition that typically affects people as they get older. It is characterized by weak or brittle bones and can be caused by:
- An inactive lifestyle
- A calcium deficiency
- Reduced estrogen in women (typically around menopause)
When everything is normal, the human body typically experiences breakdown and regrowth of bone on a regular basis. In someone with osteoporosis, however, new bone does not grow as quickly as old bone is broken down. This leads to an increased risk of bone fractures.
How are osteoporosis and hearing loss connected?
At first glance, it might not appear that osteoporosis and hearing loss could be related at all. That is, until you understand a little about ear anatomy.
The human ear is made up of small bones – the malleus (aka the ‘hammer’), incus (commonly known as the ‘anvil’), stapes (aka the ‘stirrup’), and cochlea. Each one has a different function, but they all play a role in the hearing process.
Recently, a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society concluded that the risk for moderate or more severe hearing loss was 40 percent higher in those study participants who also had osteoporosis or low bone density. The theory is that bone changes that occur with osteoporosis may also affect the ear bones, thereby impacting hearing.
Can osteoporosis and hearing loss be prevented?
In some cases, osteoporosis can be prevented by:
- Getting and absorbing enough Calcium and Vitamin D
- Limiting alcohol consumption, caffeine intake, and smoking
- Leading an active lifestyle, including weight-bearing exercise
Similarly, some cases of hearing loss can be prevented by:
- Focusing on heart health and preventing hypertension and heart disease
- Managing diabetes
- Limiting alcohol consumption and smoking
- Eating a healthy diet full of vitamins and minerals
- Avoiding ototoxic medications
- Limiting exposure to loud noise and wearing appropriate hearing protection
The bottom line is that while osteoporosis and hearing loss may not be able to be prevented all the time, leading a healthy and active lifestyle doesn’t hurt. And, recognizing either condition at the onset will make it easier to get the treatment you need to prevent them from getting worse.
If you’re concerned about osteoporosis, talk to your primary care physician or other trusted healthcare provider. Similarly, if you want to learn more about your current hearing health, how to prevent hearing loss, or how to treat a loss of hearing you already have, schedule an appointment with one of our audiologists today.