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Sleep Apnea and Hearing Loss

Sleeping better may help your hearing.

What is sleep apnea?

Getting enough sleep is an essential component of living a healthy lifestyle. But even if you practice the healthy habit of settling down for eight hours every night, certain conditions can prevent you from getting the restful sleep you need - and that could impact your hearing health.

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Normally, your breathing slows when you fall asleep. But for the estimated 18 million Americans with sleep apnea, it slows too much—and even stops for short periods.
Eventually your body will force you to breathe, usually loudly or suddenly, disturbing your sleep, and often your partner’s too. In fact, your partner may notice signs of sleep apnea before you do. Take note if you’re getting complaints about loud snoring or sudden gasps for breath during the night.

Risks of sleep apnea

Breathing difficulties at night are obviously not a recipe for restful sleep or alertness the next day. But it turns out that sleep apnea is responsible for more than just sleep difficulties. It has been associated with:

Of these issues, hearing loss may be the most surprising. Some theories suggest that the inflammation and circulatory issues brought on by sleep apnea may lead to damage in the inner ear. Scientists have linked sleep apnea to a decreased ability to hear certain frequencies, understand conversations in noisy environments and pick up softer sounds.

In a study of nearly 14,000 men and women who had completed both a sleep study and a hearing evaluation, subjects with sleep apnea were:

  • More than 30% more likely to have high-frequency hearing loss
  • 90% more likely to have low-frequency hearing loss
  • Nearly 40% more likely to have both high and low-frequency hearing loss

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Lifestyle changes may help with sleep apnea

If you deal with sleep apnea, you may be able to lessen the severity by implementing some changes and healthy habits into your daily life.

Lose weight

Although not all sleep apnea sufferers are overweight, many are. Shedding extra pounds helps to get rid of weight that presses on the windpipe and makes it harder for you to breathe.

Quit smoking

Need another reason to put those cigarettes down for good? Tobacco use leads to increased inflammation and makes sleep apnea symptoms worse.

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Seek help with a hearing evaluation

At this point, the research doesn’t prove that sleep apnea causes hearing loss, only that it is associated with it. But there’s enough evidence to suggest that if you do have sleep apnea you should get your hearing checked. Miracle-Ear offers free hearing evaluations at more than 1,500 locations across the country, so there’s really no excuse to put it off.

If you take these steps and still experience sleep apnea symptoms, it might be time to consult a sleep specialist, who can discuss other very effective options to curb this condition. If you are diagnosed with sleep apnea, your doctor may suggest you use a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine when you sleep to help keep your breathing regular. If you’re not sure whether you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor about scheduling a sleep study.

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