An increasing number of research and evidence shows a correlation between anemia and hearing loss, and more specifically – a type of anemia that leads to low iron levels.
A 2017 study showed that people with iron deficiency anemia (IDA) were two times more likely to develop hearing loss than people that didn’t have this specific blood disorder. In order to find the connection, researchers with Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine combed through the medical records of 305,339 adults with age range between 21 and 90.
“An association exists between IDA and hearing loss,” the authors said. “The next steps are to better understand this correlation and whether promptly diagnosing and treating IDA may positively affect the overall health status of adults with hearing loss,” they added.
The goal of this study was not to prove that hearing loss is caused by iron deficiency anemia, but to find out if there is any correlation between them. This was not the first study that showed this kind of correlation – a 2002 study revealed a connection between diets rich in iron and better higher frequency hearing.
Why is there a connection between iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss?
Let’s start by explaining iron’s role in our bloodstream – it helps red blood cells carry oxygen from our lungs to pretty much everywhere else in our bodies. And our ears need a good amount of healthy blood cells in order to function as it should.
"Although the role of iron in the inner ear has not been clearly established, blood supply to this area is highly sensitive to ischemic damage," the researchers said. Ischemia is a term for lack of blood supply.
Oxygen is extremely important for the general health of our sensory hair cells that are located in our inner ear, and are responsible for transforming sound into electrical impulses. Lack of oxygen can cause damage to these hair cells, or even worse – lead to their death, which in turn, affects their performance.
Who can get this disorder?
While most people that have iron deficiency anemia don’t have any symptoms, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, chronically low iron levels can lead to fatigue, shortness of breath, or even chest pain.
Everyone is susceptible to this type of anemia, but this disorder is more commonly found in women during their childbearing years caused by the loss of blood through menstruation. Another cause of anemia are the changes in the blood during pregnancy. Due to issues with the gastrointestinal system, seniors are also more prone to blood loss.
Some types of anemia can also be hereditary - like sickle cell anemia, or can be caused by chronic diseases – like kidney disease or post-chemotherapy procedures. It is worth noting that while sickle cell anemia can lead to hearing loss in adults, it is not recommended to take iron supplements, as they can do more harm than good.
People that are generally healthy don’t need iron supplements as they receive all the iron supply they need through a healthy and balanced diet. Iron-rich foods include red meat, pork and poultry, peas, beans, seafood, dark leafy vegetables, dried fruits, as well as cereals and pasta with added iron.
If you suspect you have an iron deficiency, it is advised to talk to your family physician. Your physician will do all the necessary bloodwork, but will also do a physical exam and ask series of questions regarding your family’s health history in order to find out exactly which type of anemia you have and apply the proper treatment.
If you’re worried, check your hearing
While this type of anemia is easily treatable, don’t overuse iron supplements if you want to improve your hearing. The authors of the study note that more research is needed in order to find out the way iron helps our hearing before they can safely recommend iron supplements for hearing loss treatment and auditory issues. Again, if you suspect you have this type of anemia, ask for an advice from your physician.
Additionally, if your hearing isn’t as good as it used to, no matter what the cause might be, make an appointment with your doctor and have your hearing tested by professionals at the earliest of your convenience. If you need help finding a qualified hearing healthcare professional, go over to Healthy Hearing, and browse the directory of qualified practitioners for your particular area.
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