Sleep apnea affects over 18 million Americans, and hearing loss affects over 48 million. Is there an overlap? Sleep apnea is a condition where oxygen is restricted on its way to the lungs, leaving sufferers gasping for breath in the middle of the night. Those who experience sleep apnea often wake up multiple times during the night because of this sudden oxygen cessation. However, since the sufferer may still be asleep when their oxygen flow depletes and the pause in breathing may only be seconds long, some people do not realize they have sleep apnea. They may even wake up 30 times within an hour without noticing!
Risk Factors for Sleep Apnea
Just like with hearing loss, there are several risk factors that contribute to the condition of sleep apnea. Similar to hearing loss, those over 40 years old have a greater likelihood of experiencing the ailment. Males, particularly those who are overweight, also increase their risk. Those with large tonsils, large tongues, small jawbone, or large necks also are at risk because of their difficulties with airflow. Other problems like nasal obstructions, allergies, deviated septum, or general sinus problems may also contribute to breathing difficulties. Finally, those with gastroesophageal reflux, or GERD, should be careful.
Symptoms of Sleep Apnea
If you wake up multiple times during the night with a dry or sore throat, this may be one of the first signs of sleep apnea. If your loved ones complain about your snoring or you suffer from insomnia or restlessness, this also could be caused by the condition. Because sufferers wake up many times in the night, they may experience sleepiness during the day or wake up with headaches. This all can cause mood swings and changes in temperament.
Diagnosing Sleep Apnea
If you think you have sleep apnea, consider speaking with your doctor. They will most likely prescribe a polysomnogram. This is a sleep study that monitors your brain’s activities while you sleep. It depends on electronic transmissions, so you are hooked up to monitors for overnight evaluation. An oximeter measures the amount of oxygen in your blood, but you could also get an EEG which measures brain wave activity, EMG which records your muscles’ activities, EOB which monitors any eye movements, ECG which records the rhythm and rate of your heart, nasal airflow sensor to see how much air is entering and exiting the body during sleep, or a microphone to record snoring.
Intersection with Hearing Loss
Because of the similar groups that experience hearing loss and sleep apnea, it would be logical to think there could be a correlation. Sleep apnea can cause inflammation within the bloodstream and brain. The cochlea within the ear depends on that blood flow to properly function, so with the constriction, hearing abilities decrease. Those with sleep apnea were found to suffer from high frequency hearing loss (31%), low frequency hearing loss (90%), and an increase in combined hearing loss (38%).
Treating Sleep Apnea
How can you treat sleep apnea to prevent hearing loss? To begin, losing weight helps. Also, cease alcohol consumption and smoking to promote health. As a temporary fix, change the position you sleep in to improve breathing; sleeping on your back is the worst position because it constricts airflow. Your doctor may also recommend surgery or a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine to help keep your airways open and facilitate breathing.
Before doctors can conclude a definitive causation between sleep apnea and hearing loss, more research needs to be done on the topic. But for now, do your best to stay healthy and avoid both ailments!