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Hearing problems may affect just one or both ears. Partial or total inability to hear is usually attributed to old age and other factors such as long-term exposure to noise at work or home. While the causes of hearing problems are numerous, but it is possible that a dysfunctional thyroid gland could contribute to it.
Read on to learn more.
How common are hearing problems?
Hearing problems are not uncommon, but have you ever wondered how prevalent they really are? We tend to associate them with old age, but the truth is that people of different ages can experience hearing difficulties.
According to the National Institutes of Health about 15% of American adults or 37.5 million people in the United States report some trouble hearing. Men are two times more likely than women to have hearing problems.
Numbers reveal that approximately 10% of Americans or 25 million people in the country have experienced tinnitus in the past year[i].
On a global level, about 5% of the world population or 466 million people has disabling hearing loss, and that number is expected to rise to over 900 million by 2050, according to the World Health Organization. Shockingly, about 1.1 billion young people ages 12 to 35 are at risk of hearing problems due to exposure to noise in recreational environments[ii].
What are the causes of hearing problems?
Problems affecting hearing can occur due to an array of reasons, although aging is the most prevalent factor. Hearing loss issues fall into three categories conductive (involving outer or middle ear), sensorineural (involving inner ear), and mixed (a combination of the two).
In addition to older age, hearing problems frequently develop due to exposure to loud noises. Most types of hearing loss cannot be reversed, but it is possible to improve hearing.
Frankly, everyone can develop hearing problems, but some people are at a higher risk than others. Common causes and risk factors associated with these issues involve:
- Damage to the inner ear
- Ear infection and abnormal bone growths and tumors
- Genetic predisposition
- Occupational noise
- Ruptured eardrum
- The gradual buildup of earwax
- Some health problems that cause high fever such as meningitis
- Some medications such as Viagra and chemotherapy drugs can damage hearing
What many people don’t know is that diabetes, stroke, obesity, and even stress and sleep deprivation can contribute to hearing loss.
In many cases, a combination of different factors contributes to problems affecting hearing.
Can thyroid problems cause hearing loss?
The thyroid has a strong impact on our overall health and wellbeing. Numerous studies have shown that dysfunction of the butterfly-shaped gland contributes to an array of health problems.
Science has confirmed that hearing loss can be associated with thyroid function.
Karakus et al. carried out an interesting study whose primary objective was to measure hearing thresholds in patients who are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Scientists measured the hearing of the patients prior to and before the treatment of their thyroid-related condition.
Results showed that “audiometric findings of hyperthyroid subjects were better than those in the control group, particularly at high frequencies.”
“Sensorineural hearing loss was observed in euthyroid period and in patients with hyperthyroidism, especially at low frequencies.“
Scientists concluded the study explaining that both hypo- and hyperthyroidism have a significant influence on hearing pathway disorders.
Treatment of hypothyroidism could improve hearing in patients affected by this common problem. Scientists also recommended that hearing in all persons with thyroid-related conditions should be monitored closely[iii].
As seen above, thyroid gland dysfunction can contribute to hearing problems in adults. But, research confirms that’s possible in children as well.
Avraham et al. made a significant discovery in their study. The group of scientists found that congenital deafness could be caused by an absence of thyroid hormone during development.
For the purpose of this important research, scientists used mice and demonstrated that normal hearing fails to develop in cases of thyroid hormone deficiency as a result of genetic mutation[iv].
Not only did the study confirm, once again, that thyroid has a strong influence on hearing, but it also paves the way toward the development of therapeutic approaches to treat and manage hearing problems in children, particularly in those whose issues are congenital.
Hyperthyroidism and hearing problems
Hyperthyroidism is a thyroid disease characterized by excessive levels of T3 and T4 hormones. The disease is indicated by a number of symptoms such as weight loss, nervousness, palpitations, irritability, tremors, and many others.
As mentioned above in the post, hyperthyroidism can also affect pathways involved in hearing. That being said, studies focusing on this condition only and its relationship with hearing are limited. In most cases, scientists explored hearing and both hypo- and hyperthyroidism.
However, Berker et al. carried out an interesting study involving 22 patients with Graves’ disease. Their study found a decrease in hearing ability among patients with this disease, especially at high frequencies.
The research team emphasized the importance of conducting further studies on the subject in order to elucidate all the underlying mechanisms associated with hearing loss due to Graves’ disease[v], an autoimmune disorder and the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism and hearing problems
Contrary to hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism is a condition characterized by the underactive thyroid gland and insufficient production of T3 and T4 hormones.
Men and women with this common condition have a wide range of symptoms such as weight gain, high cholesterol, hair loss, mood swings, among others. A growing body of evidence confirms that untreated hypothyroidism impairs hearing, but little is known about all the underlying mechanisms.
For instance, Lichtenberger-Geslin et al. found that patients with congenital hypothyroidism can develop hearing problems, usually around the age of seven and many of them require hearing support in early adulthood[vi].
While we have already discussed that hypothyroidism and hearing problems are associated with both adults and children, the underlying mechanisms that link the two issues are not fully elucidated.
Efficient ear function requires normal levels of various hormones including thyroid hormones, estrogen, cortisol (stress hormone), vasopressin (hormone synthesized in the hypothalamus), and aldosterone (a steroid hormone).
Why is this important?
Well, in addition to the impaired balance of thyroid hormones, patients with hypothyroidism also exhibit abnormalities in their electrolytes. As a result, the function of the inner ear which depends on the balance of electrolytes and hormones weakens.
Hypothyroidism may also involve lower levels of aldosterone[vii], potassium, and other minerals and hormones that are vital for healthy ear function. While more studies are vital to explain this relationship, it’s evident that hypothyroid patients are more likely to develop hearing problems than their healthier counterparts.
Yet another piece of evidence which confirms the complicated relationship between hypothyroidism and hearing loss is a study carried out by Egyptian scientists. The study found that treatment with levothyroxine may improve hearing in hypothyroid patients[viii]. Therefore, if levothyroxine treatment is able to improve hearing it definitely shows that problems regarding hearing loss in patients were caused by hypothyroidism.
Preventing hearing loss
Although hearing loss is a common problem and affects millions of people, there is still a lot we can do to minimize the risk of developing it. Unfortunately, most of us take our hearing for granted until problems occur.
Hearing is a gift we need to cherish, and it’s always better to be proactive. Below, you can see some important tips that can help you prevent hearing loss:
- Get your hearing checked, particularly if you are worried about hearing or if you are in the high-risk group of developing ear-related problems
- Minimizes exposure to loud noises whenever you can
- During any activity where noise is loud to make sure you wear earmuffs or earplugs
- Be more careful when listening to music because being exposed to loud songs all the time can aggravate your hearing. Instead of turning up the volume to hear the music better over noise from the environment you should consider using noise-canceling earphones
- Avoid listening to music at more than 60% of the maximum volume
In many cases, hearing cannot be restored, but it is still possible to improve hearing, particularly when the problem is caused by hypothyroidism. Treating the underlying condition can improve your inner ear function. Therefore, when it comes to hearing problems, the first thing you need to do is to ensure you stick to doctor-recommended treatment. For instance, if you have hypothyroidism, your hearing may improve with standard medication for this thyroid issue – levothyroxine.
It’s also important to emphasize that if you have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, you may want to consider getting your hearing checked regularly as studies show these conditions affect hearing pathways. That’s the first step toward the prevention of hearing loss and improvement of hearing.
In order to improve hearing, you may also want to consider the following:
- Manage stress
- Get enough sleep
- Lose weight and maintain it in a healthy range
- Manage any underlying health condition
- Solve puzzles as they are a great brain game which can improve cognitive abilities and manage anxiety and depression which are also associated with hearing problems
- Meditate and practice yoga
- Exercise regularly and increase physical activity levels
- Practice focusing on locating sounds to sharpen your hearing. For example, you can place a speaker or radio in one area of the room and play music at a comfortable volume. Then, place another source of sound in a different part of the room. Have someone read something and repeat sentence after them. A comfortable yet noisy environment will make you focus more on the sentences, and you’ll get to train your hearing. But make sure the noise isn’t too loud, of course
Millions of people around the globe have problems with hearing, and that number is expected to rise. Various causes are behind hearing loss, but what many people don’t know is that thyroid problem is one of them.
A growing body of evidence confirms that both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can affect hearing pathways. Multiple mechanisms of action are involved, and more studies are needed to elucidate them all.
Screening hypothyroid and hyperthyroid patients for hearing problems is important. Managing thyroid diseases could improve hearing. At the same time, make sure you reduce exposure to noise.
[i]. Quick statistics about hearing. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Retrieved from https://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/quick-statistics-hearing
[ii] Deafness and hearing loss. World Health Organization, Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/deafness-and-hearing-loss
[iii] Karakus CF, Altuntas EE, Kilicli F, et al. Is sensorineural hearing loss related with thyroid metabolism disorders. Indian Journal of Otology 2015;21(2):138-43. Doi: 10.4103/0971-7749.155310. Retrieved from: http://www.indianjotol.org/article.asp?issn=0971-7749;year=2015;volume=21;issue=2;spage=138;epage=143;aulast=Karakus
[iv] Amiel A. Dror, Danielle R. Lenz, Shaked Shivatzki, Keren Cohen, Osnat Ashur-Fabian, Karen B. Avraham. Atrophic thyroid follicles and inner ear defects reminiscent of cochlear hypothyroidism in Slc26a4-related deafness. Mammalian Genome, 2014; 25 (7-8): 304 DOI: 10.1007/s00335-014-9515-1. Retrieved from: https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00335-014-9515-1
[v] Berker D, Karabulut H, Isik S, et al. Evaluation of hearing loss in patients with Graves’ disease. Endocrine 2012;41(1):116-21. Doi: 10.1007/s12020-011-9515-9. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21833679
[vi] Lichtenberger-Geslin L, Dos Stantos S, Hassani Y, et al. Factors associated with hearing impairment in patients with congenital hypothyroidism treated since the neonatal period: a national population-based study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 2013;98(9):3644-52. Doi: 10/1210/jc.2013-1645. Retrieved from: https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/98/9/3644/2833132
[vii] The link between an underactive thyroid and hearing problems, Mark Vanderpump, Retrieved from https://www.markvanderpump.co.uk/blog/posts/the-link-between-an-underactive-thyroid-and-hearing-problems
[viii] Hussein MM, Asal SI, Salem TM, et al. The effect of l-thyroxine hormone therapy on hearing the loss in hypothyroid patients. The Egyptian Journal of Otolaryngology 2017;33(4):637-44. Doi: 10.4103/ejo.ejo_25_17. Retrieved from: http://www.ejo.eg.net/article.asp?issn=1012-5574;year=2017;volume=33;issue=4;spage=637;epage=644;aulast=Hussein