September 29 is a global day of awareness for heart health. Although every day is hearing health day at the Hearing Industries Association, heart health is not too far from our ears. In 2012, Dr. Charles E. Bishop proposed that “the ear is a window to the heart”.1 More research followed to make the connection between heart health and hearing health, showing that circulation impacts how well we are able to hear and that hearing loss may be a warning sign of underlying cardiovascular problems.2
Our hearing is made up of many complex parts that are sensitive to changes in blood flow. The organ in our inner ear, called the cochlea, has tiny hair cells that capture vibrations from noise, transfer the vibrations into electrical signals, and send those signals to our brains for processing the sounds. Poor circulation does not allow sufficient oxygen to our inner-ear, and starving the tiny hair cells and nerves of oxygen can permanently damage them, leaving us with hearing loss. A healthy heart provides essential blood and oxygen for our hearing mechanisms.
Listen to the warning signs…
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States.3 Types of heart disease include:
There are a variety of symptoms that warn us of the onset of heart problems, such as chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, racing or slow heartbeat, fatigue, and dizziness or fainting.
However, the ears may be the first indicator that a heart problem is occurring. Dr. David R. Friedland, Professor and Vice Chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at Medical College of Wisconsin, stated, “The inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it is possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.”
Taking care of your heart, your ears, and your future
There are many risk and lifestyle factors that make some individuals more susceptible to cardiovascular disease than others. These include:
If you have one or more of the risk factors mentioned above, you should be especially vigilant about your heart AND hearing health. If you notice your hearing ability decreasing, are over the age of 60, or have sudden loss of hearing in one or both ears, seeing a hearing care professional is an important step for your preventative health.