There is some concern with the potential link between Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and hearing loss. Are you at an increased risk?Arthritis Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease that affects more than just the joints. Complications include heart disease, osteoporosis, kidney issues, and even gum disease, according to the Arthritis Foundation. But there’s also concern that hearing loss should be on that list. In a review of clinical reports that examined the connection between hearing loss and RA, published in 2016 in The Open Rheumatology Journal, researchers noted that patients with RA are at higher risk of hearing impairment than other people living without RA.The Arthritis Foundation reports some studies found a higher risk for sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) in people with rheumatoid arthritis.However, an earlier Mayo Clinic study did not find increased hearing loss when comparing 29 people with rheumatoid arthritis to 30 age-matched people who didn’t have RA. The people with RA were more likely to feel that their hearing was decreased, but these complaints were not confirmed by hearing tests. The researchers theorized that the increased sense of hearing loss may have been caused by the stress of living with RA.“Most rheumatologists are not aware of any increased risk of hearing loss in RA,” says Stacy Ardoin, MD, an associate professor of rheumatology at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. “It is not something that we would routinely screen for. There have been some conflicting studies, but they have involved small numbers of patients.” Dr. Ardoin advises that people living with rheumatoid arthritis speak to their doctor if they are concerned about hearing loss.
Medication and Hearing LossOne explanation for hearing problems with RA could rest with some medications used to treat RA rather than with the disease itself. Researchers found, for instance, that women who took ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) six or more days a week had a 24 percent increased risk for hearing loss, compared with women who did not take ibuprofen frequently. The finding, published in September 2012 in the American Journal of Epidemiology, is considered significant because ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) frequently used to treat RA. Also, a study done two years earlier on men and published in March 2010 in The American Journal of Medicine found that their hearing, too, was impacted by NSAID use.
Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease (AIED)With an autoimmune disease like RA, your immune system mistakes parts of your body for foreign invaders, and attacks them. According to the American Hearing Foundation, autoimmune inner ear disease (AIED) develops when the immune system attacks the inner ear. A symptom of AIED is worsening hearing loss. You may also have dizziness and ringing in your ears, the foundation reports.AIED is linked to RA as well as to other autoimmune diseases. However, it notes that AIED accounts for only about 1 percent of all cases of hearing loss.“Most rheumatologists are familiar with AIED, but we don’t usually associate it with RA,” Ardoin says.
Dealing with RA-Related Hearing TroubleIf you have RA, getting a hearing test at the first sign of hearing loss is important. Your doctor can then use that test to tell whether your hearing is getting worse over time.If you have SNHL, your doctor may adjust your medications. If you have AIED, there are medications that may help. In some cases, the best treatment may be a hearing aid.To protect hearing when you have RA, the Hearing Loss Association of America suggests that you consider these steps:
- Let your doctor know about any over-the-counter drugs you take, as some can cause SNHL.
- Let your doctor know about any ringing or roaring sound in your ears or any dizziness. These can be symptoms of inner ear disease that goes along with SNHL.
- Avoid any long exposure to loud noise. Noise exposure is the most common cause of SNHL.
- Wear ear protection if you’re working around loud noise or using noisy equipment, like a lawn mower.
- Keep the volume down when listening to music through ear buds.