What is the Connection Between Hearing Loss and Strokes?

Hearing loss and strokes may seem unrelated at first glance, but research indicates a connection between these two health issues. Having an understanding of this relationship is important for healthcare professionals and patients alike, as it shows how crucial comprehensive care is for people at risk.

Sudden Hearing Loss Linked to Stroke

The onset of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL) can be a frightening experience. Since it is unpredictable and develops rapidly, it is especially alarming. Most incidents of SSNHL develop within three days and are usually unilateral – affecting only one ear. Individuals may wake up to discover hearing loss, or they may notice it occurring over the course of several days. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is defined as a hearing impairment of at least 30 dB in three sequential frequencies.

Vascular Occlusion and Hearing

Medical practitioners can’t say for sure what triggers an episode of SSNHL, but the vascular system may play a role. Vascular occlusion is a blood vessel blockage that prevents blood from moving through pathways in your body. Aside from vascular occlusion, other causes include:

  • Viral and bacterial infections
  • Ruptured inner ear membranes
  • Tumors
  • Autoimmune diseases

Researchers have focused on understanding the role the vascular system plays in sudden hearing loss, including strokes. A stroke is brain damage that results from an obstruction in the blood supply. Hearing can be affected by a stroke in the outer part of the brain stem.

Stroke Risk Among Patients With SSNHL

Published in 2008 in Stroke, a study based in Taiwan investigated whether SSNHL episodes were associated with an increased risk of stroke. Researchers Herng-Ching Lin, Pin-Zhir Chao, and Hsin-Chien Lee evaluated 7,115 patients over five years after hospitalization. Among these 7,115 patients, 1,423 were hospitalized immediately after sudden hearing loss. The researchers used the remaining 5,692 appendectomy patients as a control group.

The study revealed that 621 patients, 180 of whom were SSNHL patients, had suffered strokes over the course of the five-year period. After the researchers adjusted for gender, income, medical background and other relevant factors, the data indicated that the hazard for having a stroke was 1.64 times greater – more than a 150% increased chance – for SSNHL patients than the control group appendectomy patients.This study demonstrated for the first time that sudden hearing loss may serve as an early warning sign for a stroke.

Next Step For Patients Experiencing Sudden Hearing Loss

The good news is that 40 – 65% of SSNHL cases go on to recover on their own. However, anyone who has experienced sudden hearing loss should monitor their health and look for signs of impending stroke. According to the 2008 study, the average time between initial SSNHL and the onset of stroke was 804 days. The majority of strokes happen in the first two years.

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