Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that produces chronic inflammation of the joints. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells which causes swelling in targeted areas. Most commonly, these targeted areas are the joints in the: wrists, hands, and knees. RA specifically affects the lining of joints but can also impact tissues throughout the body, leading to additional health issues that involve other organs. This includes impacting the auditory system which is how we hear, process, and understand sound. Research shows that people with RA experience an increased risk of developing hearing loss.
Research Establishing Link Between Hearing Loss and RA
Several studies have established a link between hearing loss and RA. This includes the following:
- 2001 Study: researchers compared rates of hearing loss among patients with RA compared to those without. They found that hearing loss was present among 60% of people with RA compared to 34% of those without RA.
- 2016 Study: researchers conducted a review of clinical reports on hearing impairment in patients with RA. After thoroughly collecting and reviewing the existing literature on this correlation, they found that rates of hearing loss were anywhere between 25% to 72% among people with RA.
- 2019 Study: this study found that people with RA were 40% more likely to experience sudden hearing loss compared to people without RA.
This research reveals a significant correlation between RA and hearing loss. Though experts are not fully certain about how RA might cause hearing loss, it is clear that there is an association between both conditions.
How Can RA Impact Hearing?
Experts have suggested a few ways that RA can impact hearing and contribute to hearing loss. This includes the following:
- Ear damage: RA causes the immune system to attack healthy cells and tissue. This includes the tissue and cells in the ears which are critical for hearing and processing sound. There are a few ways this can happen: rheumatoid nodules can form under the skin. These lumps can form in the outer and/or middle parts of the ear which could obstruct sound from being absorbed (making it difficult to hear). Additionally, excess antibodies and antigens can accumulate on hair cells in the inner ear which can damage these cells. Another way ear damage can occur is through the general inflammation of joints which is characteristic of RA. Joints between the connected bones in the middle ear can become inflamed, reducing their capacity to help propel soundwaves further into the inner ear.
- Medications: various medications that are used to alleviate RA symptoms are associated with an increased risk of hearing loss. This includes over the counter medications that are used to relieve pain like ibuprofen. Specific types of medications can impact blood flow throughout the body including in the ears. Reduced blood flow in the ears can affect capacity to absorb and process incoming sound information.
It is incredibly important for people with RA to also prioritize their hearing health. This includes practicing safety measures to reduce the risk of developing hearing loss.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
There are several ways that you can protect your hearing health. A few tips you can integrate into daily life include the following:
- Wear protective gear: this includes things like headphones, earmuffs, ear plugs etc. which provide a barrier. This reduces the amount and impact of loud noise you absorb.
- Reduce noise exposure: you can do this by avoiding noisy environments, lowering the volume on electronic devices, taking listening breaks throughout the day etc.
- Noise cancellation headphones: noise cancellation technology is designed to reduce background noise which prevents people from having to increase the volume in louder settings. This allows people to listen to audio at safer volume levels.
- Have hearing tested: one of the most useful ways to take care of your hearing health is by having your hearing tested regularly. Experts recommend testing hearing annually so that you are aware of your hearing needs. Hearing tests involve a noninvasive and painless process that measures hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any impairment and informs effective treatment options.
Implementing these safety measures can support your hearing health which is especially important for people navigating arthritis. If you have experienced changes in your hearing, we’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment for a hearing test.