Can Sleep Apnea Lead to Tinnitus & Hearing Loss?
Posted: November 23, 2020
Sleep apnea (S.A.) increases your risk for many other serious conditions, such as heart problems, and diabetes. However, several recent studies show there may be a link between hearing loss and tinnitus. If you have sleep apnea, you may also have hearing impairment.
Hearing loss and tinnitus, like sleep apnea, can affect your quality of life. Some of the side effects of hearing loss and tinnitus include:
- Difficulty concentrating
- Relationship problems
- Lower work quality
- Mental health issues
Tinnitus can also make it difficult to get a good night’s sleep, which can compound the sleep problems associated with S.A. Researchers estimate that tinnitus impacts the quality of sleep for 50-60% of people with sleep disorders.
While research is ongoing, there is also the potential that sleep apnea treatment with CPAP therapy may help reduce the risk of hearing loss and tinnitus.
What Does Sleep Apnea have to do with Hearing Loss?
Sleep apnea is more than just a series of restless nights. Research has shown that this chronic sleep disorder can negatively impact your health in many ways. Studies now show that this may extend to your ears.
One study on the association between sleep apnea and hearing impairment found startling results for those who had S.A. Findings showed they were:
- 90% more likely to have low frequency hearing loss
- 30% more likely to experience high frequency hearing loss
- About 40% more likely to experience both low and high frequency hearing loss
Considering that most human speech falls into the low frequency category, these numbers are concerning. Those with S.A. and low frequency hearing loss may have difficulty hearing speech and, by extension, may have a hard time communicating with others. This can impact your quality of life.
Sleep Apnea, Hearing Loss, and Other Conditions
S.A. also increases your risk for other conditions. Some of these may also increase your risk for hearing loss. For example, hearing specialists have noticed a connection between heart disease and hearing impairment. Sleep apnea increases your risk for cardiovascular disease. This may act as a double-whammy for your risks of hearing loss.
High blood pressure is a common condition that can contribute to tinnitus and hearing loss. Sleep apnea is also associated with difficult-to-control high blood pressure. During apnea events, oxygen levels in your body suddenly drop. Your body then raises your blood pressure. These frequent spikes in blood pressure can lead to hypertension, which can also lead to or worsen hearing problems.
S.A. can also affect your metabolic system and increase your risk for diabetes. Diabetes can also lead to hearing loss by damaging the nerves and blood vessels in your inner ear. Therefore, there may be an indirect connection between sleep apnea and hearing loss as well.
Several Studies Link Sleep Apnea with Hearing Impairment
There are many studies that associate S.A. with hearing loss. One study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that hearing loss was more common in those who had severe sleep apnea, had a higher BMI, and who snored. Similar studies have also found that the number of apnea events each night may also affect the severity of hearing loss. The more apnea events, where you stop breathing or breathe shallowly, the higher degree of hearing impairment some research suggests.
Another study also evaluated whether hearing loss in sleep apnea patients was linked to oxygen levels. The researchers found that those with severe S.A. and the lowest blood oxygen levels were more likely to experience hearing impairment. This suggests that low oxygen levels may play a role in your risk for hearing loss.
In addition, some people experience sudden hearing loss, which is where you lose your hearing either at once or over a few days. Researchers in one study found that participants with sudden hearing loss were 48% more likely to have a previous sleep apnea diagnosis.
Therefore, there is a lot of research out there to suggest the connection between sleep apnea and hearing loss. While experts are still studying this link, studies suggest that you may have an increased risk for hearing impairment if you have S.A.
Tinnitus and Sleep Apnea
The definition of tinnitus is hearing noise without any external source. Most people experience this as a constant ringing in the ears. If you’ve ever heard ringing after listening to loud music, it may be similar to this. However, tinnitus can also present as other sounds like clicking, roaring, or buzzing.
The link between sleep apnea and tinnitus is somewhat less studied. However, one recent study found that tinnitus was more common in patients who were middle aged and had a sleep disorder, especially sleep apnea.
Like hearing loss, damaged cells inside your ear may be to blame for tinnitus. Several researchers have theorized that sleep apnea may cause this damage, which may explain why many people with S.A. also experience tinnitus.
Why Might this Sleep Disorder Damage the Ears?
Researchers are still studying the connection between sleep apnea and hearing. While the jury is still out on whether one is causing the other, there are many theories about how sleep apnea could damage the ears.
Sleep apnea can cause inflammation throughout your body and change how your blood vessels work, reducing blood flow to important organs like your heart. This can also extend to your ears. Reduced blood flow to your ears due to sleep apnea may lead to permanent damage to the small hair cells in your ear. These hair cells turn vibrations from noises into signals. These signals then go to your brain to interpret. When these hair cells are damaged, this causes the most common type of hearing loss – sensorineural hearing loss.
In addition to less blood flow, people with sleep apnea generally have lower blood oxygen levels. This can deprive your ears of oxygen and damage the inner ear. Therefore, this is another way that sleep apnea may lead to hearing loss.
Loud snoring is also a common side effect of S.A. that may contribute to hearing loss. Generally, our ears can’t tolerate long exposure to loud noises without experiencing some damage. That’s why you’re supposed to wear ear protection if you work somewhere with noise frequently over 85 decibels. Snoring can reach and go over this decibel threshold. Currently, the loudest snore recorded, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, was a whopping 111.6 dB! Therefore, if you’re a loud snorer, this could contribute to hearing loss for yourself or even your bed partner.
Can Treatment Help Reduce the Risk for Hearing Loss?
Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy is currently the gold standard for sleep apnea treatment as it’s non-invasive and effective for most S.A. sufferers. There currently haven’t been many studies about CPAP’s effects on hearing loss. However, there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence out there from people with both sleep apnea and hearing loss or tinnitus. Some people have noticed their tinnitus symptoms improved after starting CPAP therapy.
Why might a CPAP help with S.A. related hearing loss? CPAP therapy can help increase blood oxygen levels and blood flow, which may help prevent damage to your ears. Also, using your CPAP device as you sleep can also help prevent apnea events that may raise your blood pressure and lead to tinnitus problems from hypertension. Therefore, CPAP therapy may help not only with symptoms of sleep apnea, it may also help reduce your risk for hearing impairment.
Sleep Apnea Treatment from our Men’s Health Clinic
At Low T Center, we are one of the leading sleep apnea treatment providers in the U.S. Our team is here to help you feel better and provide convenient, affordable, and simple healthcare for a wide range of conditions that can affect your health and lifestyle. When you visit a Low T Center men’s health clinic, we make the process seamless and easy to identify underlying causes of your symptoms. Our team also provides ongoing monitoring to help you maximize results. Book an appointment at a Low T Center near you today to address your symptoms and overall health!
Disclaimer: This article is made available for general, entertainment and educational purposes only. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of Low T Center. You should always seek the advice of a licensed healthcare professional.