PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - Sleep apnea is becoming so common that it may soon be considered a chronic disease.
Approximately one-in-fifteen Americans have it and some don't even know it.
Sleep apnea has been linked to heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and obesity.
Now, add hearing loss to the list.
In research presented at a chest surgeons' meeting, 14,000 people in an Hispanic community study were evaluated for their backgrounds, lifestyles, health conditions, and noise exposure. They also had in-home sleep studies and hearing tests.
When all factors were taken into account, the researchers found sleep apnea is linked to a 30 to 90 percent increase in certain types of hearing loss.
The two conditions could be related by the noise and vibration of snoring damaging the inner ear. Or, inflammation associated with sleep apnea could affect the blood supply to the inner ear.
The study hints at a pattern, but not a cause and actually raises more questions.
"One thing to do is to look at patients who have hearing loss and treat their sleep apnea, and see, is it irreversible? Did it get better if you treat that? Or of you caught them early enough, and you're treating sleep apnea patients, what is their incidence or prevalence of hearing loss later on?" Allegheny General Hospital Sleep Specialist Dr. Daniel Shade said.
More research will have to be done to see if the findings hold up in a broader population, but it has Dr. Shade thinking about broadening the testing in his obstructive sleep apnea patients.
"We haven't been routinely screening all of our OSA patients for hearing loss. So, this is interesting. It could change practice," Dr. Shade said.
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