by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition
An article just posted online by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery reports that carotid artery atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) in midlife is associated with late-life hearing loss. The abstract is available freely but the full article is behind the journal’s paywall. The researchers, part of Dr. Frank Lin’s team at Johns Hopkins University, found that an additional 0.1 millimeter carotid intimal-media thickness, a measure of cholesterol plaque deposition in the arteries in the neck delivering blood to the brain, was associated with 0.59 decibel worse hearing measured by 4-frequency pure tone audiometry. The authors concluded that “[p]revention and control of carotid atherosclerosis during middle age may positively affect the hearing health of older adults.” While the findings reached statistical significance, that amount of hearing loss isn’t enough to interfere with understanding conversation.
The idea that hearing loss with aging was caused by hardening of the arteries dates back to the 1950s, and was investigated in a classic study by Rosen in 1962. That paper isn’t available online, but Time Magazine did write about this in 1967. Rosen was unable to determine whether atherosclerosis caused hearing loss in the isolated Mabaan population he studied in Sudan, because they also had no exposure to loud noise. Other studies done in Africa in the 1960s confirmed that without noise exposure, hearing was preserved well into old age.
A heart-healthy diet such as the Mediterranean diet is a good idea, as is not smoking, daily exercise, and maintenance of a healthy weight, but I don’t think it will do much to protect hearing. Hearing loss is not part of normal aging, but largely represents noise-induced hearing loss.
Avoid loud noise exposure, and your ears will last you a lifetime.
Because if something sounds loud, it’s too loud, and your auditory health is at risk.