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A new study performed with nearly 14,000 subjects has tied sleep apnea to specific types of hearing loss.

What is Sleep Apnea?

Sleep apnea is a disorder that is characterized by irregular pauses in breathing during sleep, ranging from a few seconds to several minutes. The condition can actually disrupt a person’s sleep schedule, causing him or her to wake up at night and feel tired during the day.

How is Sleep Apnea Related to Hearing Loss?

People that suffer from sleep apnea may often times be required to use a breathing device as they sleep. A new study by the American Thoracic Society has linked sleep apnea to hearing loss.

The main author of the publication, Dr. Amit Chopra, notes that sleep apnea correlates with a person’s ability to hear sounds at both high and low frequencies.

The Apnea-Hypopnea Index, or AHI

Researchers evaluated the intensity of a patient’s sleep apnea by using the apnea-hypopnea index, or AHI. The AHI references the number of times that apnea, or a complete halt in air flow, takes place in a patient.

Hearing Frequencies and Hearing Loss

Patients that experienced halts in airflow 15 times or more per hour were considered to have moderate sleep apnea. Of the 13,967 people studied, 9.9% displayed moderate sleep apnea, 19% had hearing loss when perceiving high-frequency noises, 1.5% had low-frequency hearing loss and 8.4% had trouble hearing at both high and low frequencies.

Sleep apnea corresponded to a 90% increase in hearing loss related to low frequencies, a 31% increase in hearing loss related to high frequencies, and a 38% increase in both high and low-frequency hearing loss.

Increasing AHI was associated with a high risk for high-frequency hearing loss, and Dr. Chopra notes that people with sleep apnea are at a higher risk for a few other conditions including heart disease and diabetes.

Hearing Loss and Body Mass Index (BMI)

Body Mass Index (BMI) has already been labeled as a culprit for hearing loss in a previous study published months earlier by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The earlier study equated blood supply, hearing loss, and obesity in adult women.

Women with a healthy BMI lower than 25 were the least likely to develop hearing loss. Women with BMIs ranging from 25-39 were at relatively high risk for hearing loss, and women with BMIs greater than or equal to 40 were at the greatest risk for hearing loss.

Researchers from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital study also speculated that hearing loss was tied to the blood supply to the cochlea, as excess weight may result in a loss of vascular blood flow to the area.

by Aaron Rodriques