The heart is responsible for pumping blood and bringing oxygen and other nutrients throughout the body. As cardiovascular disease clogs up arteries, as with other parts of the body—the ears can suffer by not getting the nourishment they need.
The inner ear is extremely sensitive to blood flow, so obstructions in the arteries and veins can impact the peripheral and central auditory systems, leading to hearing impairment. On the flip side, when the heart is healthy and the flow of blood is unimpeded, hearing problems are fewer.
To dive deeper into the biology of it, the cochlea, or the fluid-filled tube in the inner ear that translates sound into nerve impulses, is a delicate part of your hearing system and it can’t work properly without healthy blood flow. The cochlea is filled with microscopic hair cells that translate sounds into electrical impulses that the brain can interpret. Poor circulation robs these hair cells of adequate oxygen, causing damage or destruction. Because these hair cells do not regenerate, it results in permanent hearing loss.
This direct link between heart health and hearing health was highlighted in a study of 1,600 patients with a history of cardiovascular disease. In that study, 54% of those with heart disease were found more likely to experience an impaired cochlear function, further evidence of how essential blood flow is to good hearing.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will not only add years to your lifespan, but will reduce your odds of developing hearing loss. Doctors recommend taking preventative measures such as eating healthier, losing weight, quitting smoking, and maintaining a healthy blood pressure.
Looking for some specific healthy eating tips to stave off health-related hearing issues? Omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, antioxidants like folic acid found in leafy greens and vitamins like B12 found in meat, dairy and eggs are all known to either help reduce free radicals, boost red blood cell creation and improve blood flow to the ears.
Another way to improve your heart health and blood flow so your ears get the nutrients they need is exercise. When you exercise, you’re helping your body protect itself against age-related inflammation, and of course working out the heart muscle itself. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity a week, which breaks down to at least 30 minutes per day, five times a week.
Individuals with hearing loss are encouraged to undergo cardiovascular screening to determine whether there is an increased health risk. And people already diagnosed with heart disease should have a hearing evaluation by an audiologist.
Hearing loss can be isolating, causing a withdrawal from family and friends, so if you have a heart-related illness make sure you’re keeping tabs on the rest of your health, especially your hearing.