When two physical issues come up at once, researchers and medical professionals are tasked with determining if a third underlying factor is causing both at once. Identifying these connections between seemingly unconnected conditions can be quite difficult. Who could imagine that such disparate conditions as hearing loss and bone health could be linked to the same underlying health condition? Although these connections can be difficult to spot in a clinical setting, researchers are skills at finding these relationships at the level of population trends. Particularly when they use a large sample of people, researchers can identify variables that have surprising connections with one another. Indeed, such is the case with hearing loss and osteoporosis. Although researchers continue to explore the underlying factors that cause both of these conditions, the statistical relationship is plain to see. Those who have osteoporosis and low bone density have a significantly higher risk of hearing loss than their counterparts who do not have bone density issues. Let’s take a closer look at the research as well as the ideas that researchers have about an underlying connection.
In a recent study, researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston used data from the Conservation of Hearing Study to find out more about bone density and hearing. They used this data from 144,000 women who were tracked for up to 34 years to get a longitudinal analysis of their outcomes. They found that the risk of hearing loss was up to 40 percent higher among those who had osteoporosis or low bone density than those with normal levels of bone density. With these statistics on record, experts began the process of understanding how these seemingly unconnected conditions had a relationship with one another.
Many people who have low bone density take medications called bisphosphonates. These drugs have been quite successful at preventing osteoporosis or bone breaks among those who show initial signs of low bone density. The researchers were curious about the effects on hearing loss, as well. Would bisphosphonates be able to reduce the additional risk of hearing loss that they witnessed among those who had bone density issues? Unfortunately, two different statistical analysis found that taking bisphosphonates did not reduce the added risk of hearing loss among those who had bone density issues. It seems that an underlying issue was at fault for this added risk, one that was not addressed by commonly taken osteoporosis prevention medication. What accounts for this correlation between hearing loss and low bone density in the first place? Experts do not have conclusive answers, but they can use what they know about the body to make some good predictions about the relationship. Osteoporosis can be caused by abnormal bone remodeling and changes in the pathways involved in maintaining bone homeostasis. These same processes can affect the bones in the ear, as well. Some of the tiny bones in the ear that protect the nerves and structures involved in hearing can be affected by low bone density. Low bone density might also alter ion and fluid metabolism in the cochlea, which is a spiral structure of the inner ear that is crucial to hearing.
Preventing hearing loss is an important step for everyone. Simple habits such as wearing earplugs in loud environments and keeping a low volume on your earbuds or headphones is a good way to maintain healthy hearing later in life. In addition to these simple tasks that everyone can perform, you can also prevent bone density issues that might have a ripple effect into the ears, as well. Getting complete nutrition, including plenty of calcium is important to bone growth as a child and bone density maintenance as an adult. Exercise is also a crucial way to keep the bones in good shape and strength. Just like the muscles of the body, the bones also need exercise to remain strong and supple. With these preventative measures in place, you can do your best to keep your bones healthy long in to your adult years, including the bones of the inner ear. If you are concerned about bone density, be sure to contact your primary care physician for a check-up, and we are here to meet your hearing needs, as well.