A person is said to be suffering hearing loss if he or she has either complete or partial loss of the ability to hear external sounds. Hearing Loss can be further classified as conductive hearing loss or sensorineural hearing loss. A person is said to have conductive hearing loss if the sound waves entering the outer ear are not able to be appropriately transmitted to the eardrum and middle ear. This affects the person’s ability to hear faint sounds. There are a variety of causes for a person to have conductive hearing loss to include conditions like otitis media, perforated eardrum, and some abnormality in the outer and middle ear. Conductive hearing loss is a treatable condition and that can be done conservatively or surgically.[1,2,3]
On the other hand, sensorineural hearing loss is caused when there is any damage to the inner ear resulting in inability to hear properly. Sensorineural hearing loss is a permanent condition. It can be caused due to genetic factors, certain medications, or trauma. Iron deficiency anemia on the other hand is a condition that is caused due to low levels of hemoglobin, serum ferritin, or serum iron. It is a condition that can be easily treated with iron supplements. Premature babies, children who are breastfed that lacks adequate iron, children with reduced dietary intake, or those with significant blood loss due to trauma, accident or injury all are at risk for iron deficiency anemia.[1,2,3]
With regard to hearing loss, it is estimated that approximately 15% adults in the United States have some form of hearing loss. This is seen more in people above the age of 60. Hypertension, diabetes, and smoking have all been related to hearing loss in adults. As the cause of hearing loss is not completely understood and the impact that this condition has on the overall well-being of a person, research is still ongoing as to what can be the risk factors for hearing loss.[1,2,3]
Among the various researches that have been conducted, one study highlighted that sensorineural hearing loss may have a link to iron deficiency anemia. This link was further investigated by a group of researchers from the Pennsylvania State University in the United States and was led by Kathleen Schieffer.[1,2,3] This article highlights the results of this research and gives a detail of the link between hearing loss and iron deficiency anemia.
Is There A Link Between Anemia And Hearing Loss?
Iron deficiency as stated is a disorder which is caused by lack of adequate iron levels in the body. This affects the hemoglobin levels in the body which in turn impacts the oxygen supply to the various parts of the body. Studies estimate that around 5 million people are affected with iron deficiency anemia in the United States. Since hearing loss is seen in about 15% of the population in the US and iron deficiency anemia is something that can be treated easily, a link between the two conditions can be quite important to further identify the possible risk factors for hearing loss.
For this, the researchers analyzed data taken from the electronic medical records from Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center in Hershey, PA. A total of 105,339 people were selected aged between 21 and 90. Of this, 43% were males with an average age of 50. Iron deficiency anemia was diagnosed based on the hemoglobin and ferritin levels in these people.
The team then collected information of these people with regard to their hearing. They looked at both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss as separate entities. On careful analysis, it was revealed that sensorineural hearing loss was indeed linked to iron deficiency anemia.
Why and how was it related was not completely understood but a few theories have been put up by the researchers. One theory suggests that in people with iron deficiency anemia there is decreased blood flow to the parts of the body. This includes the inner ear. The blood flows to the inner ear through the labyrinthine artery which is extremely sensitive. Any decrease in blood flow can cause significant damage to this artery. This may result in the person having sensorineural hearing loss. It is also well known that people with vascular diseases are prone to sensorineural hearing loss. Iron deficiency anemia being a vascular disorder certainly plays a role in a person having sensorineural hearing loss.
Another theory that has been postulated involves myelin, which is a sheath that protects the nerves and helps in transmitting the signals from the nerves to the brain. If the amount of iron in the body is reduced then there is breakdown of lipid saturase and desaturase which are necessary for energy production and production of myelin. A reduced production of myelin may result in damage to the nerves and if this happens to the auditory nerves then hearing gets severely affected.
By clearly establishing a link between iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss, researchers are now looking at the potential of improving hearing with iron supplements. If this is successful then this will be a major breakthrough by providing an easy and cost effective way of treating hearing loss.
In conclusion, hearing loss affects about 15% of adult population in the United States have hearing loss and nearly 5 million people have iron deficiency anemia. As both these conditions are quite prevalent, a link between these two conditions can significantly help in finding out potential risk factors and treatment alternatives for both iron deficiency anemia and sensorineural hearing loss.[1,2,3]
The studies conducted by researchers at the Pennsylvania State University analyzed abundant data of people with iron deficiency anemia and found that many of these people had sensorineural hearing loss. This clearly established a link between these two conditions. As to why this occurs is something that requires further study even though various theories have been tabled that have been mentioned above.[1,2,3]
With a link clearly established, researchers are now studying on whether treatment for iron deficiency anemia can be helpful in improving hearing. If this is successful then it will be a big boost for people with both these conditions in terms of treatment options and the ease with which iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss can be treated.[1,2,3]
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