Can Osteoporosis Increase Risk of Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition in the United States, with age being one of the most significant contributing factors. Previous studies have identified a link between hearing loss and bone density loss associated with osteoporosis, but supporting evidence has been scarce. Recent research has now confirmed that osteoporosis can increase your risk of hearing loss.
The ear contains three tiny bones, which help amplify sound waves as they pass through the ear. In the same way that other bones in the body can be affected by osteoporosis, the ear bones can lose bone density too, and hearing is reduced. Typically, hearing aids help maintain hearing, but a new study has identified a link between strengthening bones and reducing hearing loss.
Having discovered that bisphosphonates, medications that help slow bone density loss, help prevent hearing damage in animal studies, researchers wanted to investigate if these medicines could do the same in humans. They initiated a new study to investigate this and find out if there was a longitudinal relationship between osteoporosis and hearing loss.
This recent Conservation of Hearing study involved Brigham and Women’s Hospital researchers analyzing data from 144,000 women who were followed over the course of 34 years. Using data collected from questionnaires completed every two years by study participants, researchers evaluated cases of hearing loss classified as moderate or severe.
What they found was:
♦ A higher risk of hearing loss among women with low bone density and osteoporosis.
♦ Taking bisphosphonates did nothing to reduce the risk of hearing loss for these women.
♦ A history of vertebral fractures is linked to a 40% higher risk of hearing loss, whereas a history of hip fractures does not have the same risks.
Hip and vertebral fractures are the most common osteoporosis-related fractures. These findings can help researchers understand how bone metabolism throughout the body can influence the bones in and around the ear. The pathways involved in maintaining bone structure within the vertebral column influence the bones and nerves within the ears and work separately from those involved in hip maintenance.
Changes in bone density along the vertebral column may influence the bones that protect the nerves and structures required for hearing. When osteoporosis affects the density of these bones, hearing is more likely to be affected. Discovering that medicines typically used to slow bone density loss are ineffective in reducing hearing loss has inspired researchers to look for alternative solutions.
Previous studies have indicated that a healthy lifestyle, nutrient-rich diet, not smoking, and regular exercise all reduce the risk of hearing loss. This new study supports this, indicating that by supporting bone health and reducing bone density loss through healthy living, you can also reduce the risk of hearing loss as you age.
Sharon G. Curhan, Konstantina Stankovic, Christopher Halpin, Molin Wang, Roland D. Eavey, Julie M. Paik, Gary C. Curhan. (2021). Osteoporosis, bisphosphonate use, and risk of moderate or worse hearing loss in women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.