For the millions with varying degrees of hearing loss, it’s not always as simple and straightforward as having trouble hearing. Many of the 48 million Americans in the hard of hearing community have associated conditions, such as tinnitus, depression, or as a recent study suggests: iron deficiency anemia. Conducted by researchers from the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, the study was not designed to show that iron deficiency was the cause of hearing loss, but that these two conditions could be closely related to one another. Pennsylvania State is not alone in their conclusion either, as numerous studies from the past have found similar relationships between iron intake and hearing. As recent research suggests, there is growing evidence indicating that hearing loss and anemia are linked, prompting health care professionals to examine whether promptly treating iron deficiency anemia may help hearing-related outcomes.
As the name suggests, Iron Deficiency Anemia (IDA) is a common type of anemia caused by insufficient iron in the body. This causes your blood to lack adequate healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen throughout your body. Without sufficient iron, your body cannot produce enough hemoglobin, a protein inside the red blood cell that allows it to carry oxygen, leaving you short of breath and fatigued. Iron Deficiency Anemia can usually be corrected through iron supplements or a change in diet, though further tests may need to be conducted by a medical professional.
In your inner ear, oxygen is necessary for the health of fragile sensory hair cells that help translate sound into electrical impulses that are sent to the brain. These electrical impulses are understood as the sounds we hear each and every day. However, anemia can cause your inner ears, a system that is dependent on oxygen-rich blood flow, to go without the necessary resources it requires to function at a healthy level. A lack of oxygen can damage these sensory hair cells, affecting their ability to perform this translation.
The team at Pennsylvania State University explains, “Although the role of iron in the inner ear has not been clearly established, blood supply to this area is highly sensitive to ischemic (a lack of blood supply) damage.”
Knowing this, the research team analyzed data from the medical records of more than 300,000 adults in Hershey, Pennsylvania and identified patients who had both iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss, concluding that the “people with iron deficiency anemia were 2.4 times more likely to have combined hearing loss compared with those who did not have iron deficiency anemia. The people with iron deficiency anemia were also 1.8 times more likely to have sensorineural hearing loss.” Researchers believe that this is due to the link between IDA and several blood disorders that can cause damage to delicate blood vessels in the ear, resulting in sensorineural hearing loss.
“An association exists between IDA and hearing loss,” the study’s authors conclude, “The next steps are to better understand this correlation and whether promptly diagnosing and treating IDA may positively affect the overall health status of adults with hearing loss.”
Although Iron Deficiency Anemia is treatable and often temporary, it may not be the exact cause of your hearing loss. The team at Pennsylvania State University emphasizes further research is needed to understand the relationship between iron and protecting our hearing health before supplementation can be used as a treatment. If you think you may be suffering from IDA, seek out the medical advice of a healthcare professional.