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New Study Links Sleep Apnea and Hearing Loss

by Alexandra Kilpatrick

Sleep apnea sufferers could have a higher risk of hearing loss, according to a new study and will likely need hearing instruments at later ages.

Presented at the American Thoracic Society’s 2014 International Conference, the study found about 10 percent of the 13,967 subjects sampled experienced at least moderate sleep apnea.

The patients with sleep apnea had a 31 percent increased risk of high frequency hearing impairment, 90 percent increased risk of low frequency hearing impairment and a 38 percent increased risk of combined high and low frequency hearing impairment. The researchers controlled for other hearing loss causes and factors like age and sex.

“The mechanisms underlying this relationship merit further explanation,” lead author Dr. Amit Chopra, M.D., of New York’s Albany Medical Center, said in a statement. “Potential pathways linking sleep apnea and hearing impairment may include adverse effects of sleep apnea on vascular supply to the cochlea [part of the inner ear] via inflammation and vascular remodeling or noise trauma from snoring.”

Snoring results from relaxed throat muscles narrowing the airways during sleep, which leads to sound-causing vibrations. Sleep apnea causes temporary pauses in breathing, often as much as one hundred times per night.

“[Sleep apnea sufferers] are at an increased risk for a number of co-morbidities, including heart disease and diabetes,” Chopra told the Huffington Post. Therefore, those with sleep apnea should seek treatment for the condition.

Researchers also presented findings linking acute respiratory failure to sleep apnea at the conference. They discovered that the majority of acute respiratory failure patients, or those who needed mechanical ventilation for at least 48 hours, met sleep apnea criteria.

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