Maintain Oxygen Levels: Hypoxia Can Contribute to Hearing Loss

People often wonder why very complicated conditions like diabetes, heart disease, lung disease and sleep apnea figure on the lengthy list of possible hearing loss causes. Although more studies are needed, one theory is that these conditions interfere with oxygen transport to the ears. It is a lot about blood flow. One might say that plumbing issues get in the way of healthy hearing. 

The blood carries nutrients and removes waste products. However, more importantly, the blood carries oxygen. Low blood flow to the ears results in reduced oxygen levels or hypoxia, which can contribute to hearing loss.

Throughout the body, oxygen drives cell metabolism, which is the process by which cells generate energy. Without energy, cell function weakens and even stops. And the ears are no exception.

Oxygen starvation damages the cochlear hearing cells of the inner ears. These cells are very dependent on a consistent and ample oxygen supply for normal function.  The more often “hypoxic” events happen and the longer they last, the better the chances are for hearing cell damage and permanent hearing loss in the long run.

And so, the prevention of hearing loss is yet another reason why it is important to prevent and control chronic disease states that interfere with blood flow and oxygen transport to the ears.

Damaged lungs do not load the blood with the amount of oxygen needed for the proper function of the ears. Breathing pauses related to sleep apnea make for oxygen-poor blood. Weakened hearts due to heart disease become inefficient blood pumps. Also, blood does not flow smoothly through blood vessels that have been damaged by high blood pressure and diabetes or that have been hardened and narrowed by cholesterol deposits.

The end result is that the ears suffer from chronic oxygen depletion, which can lead to hearing loss and aggravate already existing problems and losses.  

As research continues, what we can do to reduce the effect of hypoxia on hearing?

  • Quit smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart and lung disease. Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide which starves the blood of oxygen. Nicotine constricts the blood vessels, which limits blood flow. Nicotine also raises blood glucose levels.
  • Get help for sleep apnea. This condition can dip blood oxygen levels to dangerously low levels. This is bad for the whole body, including the ears. Talk to your physician without delay.
  • Although it sounds trite, a healthy diet and a daily exercise routine go a long way to help prevent chronic disease or to keep it from getting worse. Talk to the doctor and dietician about a plan tailored to your needs.
  • Always follow doctors’ and specialists’ orders. Don’t skip appointments and tests.
  • Report hearing issues and have the ears tested so that hearing can be monitored and hearing loss can be treated, if needed.

In the end…

Ongoing and under-appreciated hypoxia can contribute to hearing loss. Although aging and exposures to excessively loud sound are better known and obvious causes for hearing loss, hypoxia has its own sneaky way of eroding our healthy hearing and with that our quality of life.


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