Hearing loss linked to snoring and sleep apnoea

Sleep apnoea and heavy snoring is independently associated with a 31 per cent increase in high frequency hearing impairment.

Sleep apnoea is positively linked to increased risk of heart disease and diabetes, amongst numerous other serious health problems, but a large U.S. study has now found that the sleeping disorder is also linked to hearing loss.

Listening

Sleep apnoea is the temporary cessation of breathing during sleep, which in some cases is due to obstruction of the upper airway by enlarged tonsils causing loud snoring and fighting for their breath.

The study investigated data gathered from almost 14,000 U.S. participants in the Hispanic Community Health Study. About 53 per cent of respondents were women and on average the subjects were 41 years old. All of them dad completed detailed in-home sleep studies and audiometric (hearing) testing. About 10 per cent of the study volunteers had sleep apnoea and 30 per cent had some form of hearing impairment, according to the study.

People in the study were more likely to have hearing impairment if they were of Cuban and Puerto Rican backgrounds, had a higher body mass index or BMI (an indication of being overweight), were people who snored, or had been diagnosed as having sleep apnoea.

The study authors found that sleep apnoea was associated with a 31 per cent increase in high frequency hearing impairment and a 90 per cent increase in low frequency hearing impairment. Sleep apnoea was also linked to a 38 per cent increase in both high and low frequency hearing loss. Speech tends to fall in the low frequency range so the results are both serious and widespread amongst snorers and apnoea sufferers.

The findings were presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in San Diego, California last week and further studies into the wider community are now being planned.

Habitual, loud snoring is a key symptom of obstructive sleep apnoea, (OSA), a disease that affects 12-18 million Americans and is known to increase the risk of many health problems including heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, erectile dysfunction and depression. The actual number of sufferers is definitely much higher and may be 70-80 million, as most cases of OSA are known to be untreated and undiagnosed – in fact, the key indicator of the problem, heavy snoring, is foolishly ignored.

Only one thing can be concluded from the study the lead Researcher said: “There is the potential that treating sleep apnoea may improve hearing loss.” and she went on to say that people with sleep apnoea should be screened for hearing impairment since it is shown to be associated with the disorder.

For many sleep apnoea sufferers relief lies in an effective treatment called oral appliance therapy which uses a “mouth-guard” like device worn only during sleep to hold your jaw forward and open your airway. Pioneered by dentists, oral appliance therapy began its surge into sleep apnoea treatment plans in the early 1990s.

Now, more than 20 years later, a growing mass of research is proving that oral appliances are a highly effective alternative to the inconvenience and difficulties of using CPAP, (a mask based oxygen supply), and that patients are more likely to use oral appliances, even seven days a week, to get a good night’s rest, improve their health, and even prolong their lives.

So if you’ve got hearing problems, and you snore, do something about it.

John Redfern