Older woman alone looking out window

A Link Between Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Bonnie L. Baehr, Au.D.

Imagine waking up one day to find that your favorite music sounds muffled and your loved ones’ voices are harder to understand. For many older adults, this is a reality. Hearing loss is a common condition that affects millions of people worldwide. But did you know that it may be linked to another condition that affects many older adults – Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)?

In this blog post, we will explore the link between hearing loss and RA and discuss how early detection and treatment can make a significant difference in managing both conditions. We will also share tips on how to prevent and manage hearing loss in RA patients.

What is Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid Arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the joints and other parts of the body. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues in the body, leading to inflammation and damage.

Symptoms of RA include joint pain, stiffness, and swelling, as well as fatigue, fever, and weight loss. RA can also cause complications in other parts of the body, such as the lungs, heart, and eyes.

RA is usually diagnosed based on a combination of symptoms, physical examination, and lab tests. It is typically treated with a combination of medications, physical therapy, and lifestyle changes.

What is Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is a condition that affects the ability to hear. It can occur at any age but is more common in older adults. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including aging, exposure to loud noise, and certain medical conditions.

Symptoms of hearing loss include difficulty hearing in noisy environments, difficulty understanding speech, and a tendency to turn up the volume on televisions and radios.

Hearing loss is usually diagnosed by a hearing test, also called an audiogram. It can be treated with hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other assistive devices.

The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Hearing Loss

Several studies, including one published in 2018 in the journal Clinical Rheumatology, found that people with rheumatoid arthritis had a higher rate of sensorineural hearing loss. RA can affect the ears and hearing in a number of ways. It can cause inflammation in the inner ear, which can lead to hearing loss. Additionally, RA can cause problems with the blood vessels that supply blood to the inner ear, leading to a lack of oxygen and nutrients.

Most of the time however, painkillers are to blame for hearing problems in people with arthritis. Aspirin and other salicylates taken in large amounts can cause temporary hearing loss or ringing in the ears (tinnitus). A study published in 2010 in the American Journal of Medicine and a study published in 2012 in the American Journal of Epidemiology both confirmed that aspirin, NSAIDs, and acetaminophen can hurt your hearing.

The 2010 study looked at data from almost 27,000 men and found that regular use of aspirin increased the risk of hearing loss by 50%, and regular use of NSAIDs increased the risk of hearing loss by 61% in men younger than 50. Regular users of acetaminophen were twice as likely to lose their hearing.

The 2012 study looked at how often 62,261 women used aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen and how often they lost their hearing. It was found that people who took ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) often were more likely to say they were losing their hearing than people who took these painkillers less often. The risk went up as the amount of drug use went up.

In both studies, regular use was defined as taking analgesics at least twice a week, and the link between analgesic use and hearing loss was usually stronger among people younger than 50.

Managing Hearing Loss with Rheumatoid Arthritis

  • Get your hearing checked regularly: if you have RA, it’s important to have your hearing checked regularly, even if you don’t have any symptoms of hearing loss.
  • Communicate with your healthcare provider: if you have hearing loss, let your healthcare provider know so they can coordinate your care and make sure you’re getting the appropriate treatment.
  • Use hearing aids or other assistive devices: if you have hearing loss, using hearing aids or other assistive devices can help improve your ability to hear and communicate.
  • Protect your ears from loud noise: try to avoid prolonged exposure to loud noise and wear earplugs if you can’t avoid it.
  • Control your RA symptoms: keeping your RA symptoms under control can help reduce inflammation and protect your ears.

Importance of communication with your hearing healthcare provider

Open communication with your healthcare provider is essential for managing both RA and hearing loss. Your healthcare provider can help you coordinate your care, make sure you’re getting the appropriate treatment, and provide you with resources and support. It is important to let your healthcare provider know if you have hearing loss or if your RA symptoms are affecting your ears.

At our hearing practice, we understand the importance of early detection and treatment when it comes to managing hearing loss. If you are an older adult who is experiencing hearing loss, we encourage you to make an appointment with us. Our team of experts will provide you with comprehensive hearing evaluations, and recommend the best treatment options for you. Don’t let hearing loss hold you back, visit our practice today.