If you’re living with arthritis, you may be at risk of developing hearing loss. And while the disease may affect the systems needed for hearing, often it’s the drugs used for arthritis treatment that is the culprit behind hearing loss.
Arthritis and hearing loss
Arthritis is a common condition. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 1 in 5 Canadians live with arthritis; more than half are under 65.
This 2018 study in Clinical Rheumatology showed that rheumatoid arthritis and systemic autoimmune disorders are associated with hearing loss. Previous thinking was that the inner ear was an “immune-privileged” site, unaffected by autoimmune diseases.
Sensorineural hearing loss is most commonly associated with autoimmune disorders. This type of hearing loss can make it hard for the brain to interpret sound.
Conductive hearing loss (when sounds can’t get through the outer or middle ear) may also occur.
Or a person may have mixed hearing loss in which both types of hearing loss are present.
Can arthritis cause hearing loss?
People with arthritis may experience hearing loss from the disease or from the drugs used for treatment. Causes may include:
- High doses of aspirin (e.g. Bayer), ibuprofen (e.g. Advil or Motrin), or acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol).
- Prolonged use of medications used to treat arthritis.
- Arthritis may attack the cochlea and small bones, joints and cartilage of the inner ear.
- Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can increase the chance of autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED) and hearing loss.
What symptoms of hearing loss are caused by arthritis?
Pinpointing arthritis or arthritis medications as the root cause of hearing loss can be difficult. People often report:
- Speech may seem muffled.
- Trouble hearing with competing background noise.
- A feeling of fullness in the ear.
- A ringing or other sound in the ear.
- Dizziness, issues with balance, or vertigo.
Symptoms of hearing loss should be treated as early as possible. An Audiologist can conduct a complete Hearing Evaluation. With your permission, the results of the Hearing Evaluation will be shared with your doctor or rheumatologist.
How do you treat arthritis-related hearing loss?
The main focus for treating hearing loss due to an autoimmune disorder like arthritis is preserving hearing. Your doctor may consider alternative medications or options such as steroids, vasodilators that improve blood flow to the ear or anti-inflammatory drugs.
Hearing aids can’t restore hearing, but they will help you hear and communicate better.
How is rheumatoid arthritis linked to hearing loss?
RA can damage the nerves or tissue in the ears that allows us to hear. This puts people with RA at risk for hearing loss, autoimmune inner ear disease, and damage to the bones and cartilage in the ear.
Up to 75% of people with rheumatoid arthritis may experience sensorineural hearing loss. However, people with RA may also have conductive hearing loss if the outer and middle portions of the ear are damaged.
Risk factors include:
Exposure to noise, smoking, alcohol
RA-related ear damage
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, make sure you pay attention to your hearing and discuss any changes you notice with your doctor. You should also have a Hearing Evaluation baseline on file and get your hearing retested every 1 – 2 years.
Does osteoarthritis cause hearing loss?
Yes, osteoarthritis can result in hearing loss. This is because osteoarthritis breaks down joint cartilage. The body responds to the damage with an abnormal repair mechanism that changes bone structure.
Studies have shown a higher occurrence of abnormalities in the middle ear in people with osteoarthritis. Cartilage degenerates in the middle ear ossicles or cochlear capsule.
People with osteoarthritis also report more complaints of tinnitus.
What is Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease?
Though rare, Autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED) occurs in just under 30% of people who have another autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis.
With AIED, the immune system attacks the inner ear. Hearing loss can often start in one ear then move to the other ear over time.
AIED can be treated, and as with other autoimmune disorders, preservation of hearing should be a priority as early as possible.
If you have arthritis, let your Audiologist know. If a friend or loved one with arthritis is experiencing tinnitus or difficulty hearing, encourage them to book an appointment.
Broadmead Hearing Clinic: 250-479-2969 or Oak Bay Hearing Clinic: 250-479-2921.