Can Sleep Apnea Affect the Snorer’s Hearing?
The answer is yes! A new study involving nearly 14,000 people suggested that individuals with untreated obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) were more likely to experience hearing impairment. Even after researchers adjusted the reports to accommodate for other possible causes affecting one’s hearing, the research still found the sleep disorder to be linked to hearing loss at both high and low frequencies.
OSA is a common sleep disorder that 18 million people in the U.S alone suffer from. Many believe that sleep apnea is just something that happens when they sleep. However, sleep experts like Dr. Neomi Shah, an associate director of the Fiore Medical Center in New York City, “urge we start thinking about sleep apnea as a chronic disease with vascular and inflammatory issues.” People with OSA usually snore heavily, and then stop breathing while still sleeping.
An apnea episode is a reduction of airflow of 90 percent caused by the collapse of the soft tissue in the back of the throat. The collapse blocks the airway and can last for 10 seconds or more every time. During an episode, the body fights against the closed airway until the victim comes out of their deep sleep and goes into a light enough sleep to regain muscle tone. This can happen dozens and sometimes hundreds of times every hour, thus creating a cycle of constant unconscious awakening during the night. Fragmented, non-refreshing sleep can cause excessive daytime sleepiness, cardiovascular and endocrine problems, generalized inflammation, etc.
So what could be a possible explanation for the connection between OSA and hearing loss? Dr. Shah, the research author, believes that it could be a combination of factors that cause abnormal functioning and inflammation in the blood vessels. According to Shah, “the ear is prone to this kind of injury.” Rebecca Spencer, a neuroscientist and associate professor at the University of Massachusetts says, “They [sleep apnea and hearing loss] may not be related except by a third factor. Although, Spencer agrees that one thing can definitely be concluded from this study: She states, “There is the potential that treating sleep apnea may improve hearing loss.”
Researchers urge people with sleep issues to be screened for hearing impairment due to the possible connection to the sleep disorder. Many hearing issues are improvable and early detection can assist prevention of further impairment.