February is American Heart Month! Did you know there is a connection between hearing health and heart health? Read on to learn about that link and what you can do to strengthen both your hearing health and your cardiovascular health.
American Heart Month
American Heart Month is an initiative supported by many organizations, including the American Heart Association, NIH and the CDC. The goal is to promote heart health and raise awareness about heart disease and how to prevent it.
About Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, representing in one in four deaths every year. The good news is that many forms of heart disease can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices.
The terms heart disease and cardiovascular disease are often used interchangeably. They describe a range of diseases and conditions that affect your heart. Types of heart disease include:
- Atherosclerotic disease: the hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to the build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances.
- Heart arrhythmias: abnormal heartbeats, whether irregular, too fast or too slow.
- Congenital heart defect: a heart abnormality you’re born with.
- Dilated cardiomyopathy: the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively.
- Endocarditis: an infection of the heart’s inner lining, typically involving the heart valves.
- Valvular heart disease: damage to or a defect in one of the four heart valves.
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Symptoms can vary based on the type of heart disease, but many are common across all types. These include:
- Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort
- Racing or slow heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Pain, numbness or weakness in your extremities
- Fluttering in your chest
- Fainting or near fainting
Heart disease, like many other conditions, is easier to treat when detected early. Seek medical care if you experience one or more of these symptoms, especially if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
Although anyone could be at risk for heart disease, there are some risk factors that may make you more likely to develop a heart condition. Risk factors that are out of your control include:
- Age: The older you are, the higher the risk.
- Gender: Men are at a greater risk than women. Women’s risk increases after menopause
- A family history of heart disease
Other risk factors can be controlled by making healthy lifestyle choices. The following can increase your chances of developing heart disease:
- Poor diet
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol levels
- Excess stress
How to Improve Cardiovascular Health
Taking steps to eliminate unnecessary risk factors from your life can go a long way toward preventing heart disease. Here are several known ways to improve heart health:
- Live smoke-free: Quitting smoking can have enormous, immediate heart health benefits. According to the FDA, the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to normal just 12 hours after a person quits smoking. Over time, the risk of heart disease may be reduced by 50 percent or more.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet: Incorporating more healthy foods into your diet is just as important as cutting back on unhealthy ones. Add more fruits and veggies, whole grains, plant proteins and fiber. Limit unhealthy fats, alcohol and foods high in sodium and sugar.
- Exercise regularly: The American Heart Association recommends adults engage in at least an hour and a half of moderate-intensity aerobic activity each week. Taking a daily walk is a great way to start.
- Care for your mental health: Mindfulness, deep breathing and other stress-reducing techniques have been shown to lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease.
Link Between Hearing Loss and Cardiovascular Health
The link between heart disease and hearing loss has been well established for years. Simply put, it’s all about blood flow. The inner ears are extremely sensitive to blood flow. Heart problems can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries and restrict blood flow, which also causes irreversible damage to the ear. Also, the delicate nerves in the cochlea play an important role in translating noise in your ears to electrical impulses to your brain. Poor circulation can reduce adequate oxygen, causing damage to these nerves.
David R. Friedland, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Vice Chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at Medical College of Wisconsin, explains, “The inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it is possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.”
In 2010, researchers Raymond H. Hull and Stacy R. Kerschen published a review of more than 60 years of research, finding that impaired heart health has a negative impact, particularly in older adults. Similarly, improved heart health has a positive influence on hearing health.
Research from Miami University shows that an active lifestyle can play a big part in a healthy cardiovascular system, including regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet and keeping blood pressure in a good range. The higher the level of cardiovascular fitness, the better the hearing of the study’s older participants.
In summary, improving cardiovascular health has been shown to reduce your risk of hearing loss.
What Can You Do to Protect Hearing?
In addition to maintaining heart-healthy habits, it’s important to regularly monitor your hearing. Considering the well-established link between heart disease and hearing loss, it’s recommended that anyone over the age of 40 get an annual hearing test as part of their routine medical screening. If it’s found that you do have hearing loss, hearing aids are the most common treatment option.
Expert Charles Charles E. Bishop, AuD, Assistant Professor in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Department of Otolaryngology and Communicative Sciences, stresses the importance of considering your hearing health as an important part of your overall health. “Hearing health should not be assessed in a vacuum,” he says. “There is simply too much evidence that hearing loss is related to cardiovascular disease and other health conditions. It’s time we maximized the information we have in order to benefit the individual’s overall well-being.”