For years, medical professionals have been aware of a possible link between rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and hearing loss. Statistics show that patients with RA suffer disproportionately higher rates of hearing impairment, leading many to speculate that inflammatory arthritis like RA and the medications used to treat it may contribute to a decline in hearing ability.
A 2016 study by Amir Emamifar, MD, Ph.D., a research fellow at the University of Southern Denmark and section of rheumatology at Svendborg Hospital, found that up to 72 percent of RA patients experienced sensorineural hearing loss, (1) which occurs from inner ear damage and is the most common type of hearing loss.
More recently, a systematic review of 12 observational studies that included 20,022 patients with RA and an additional 79,233 control subjects found the RA patients were four times as likely as the controls to develop sensorineural hearing loss.
Researchers believe RA activity occurs in the middle ear, cochlea and auditory nerve, leading to a higher chance of hearing loss. Other possibilities include:
• The joints between the tiny bones inside the ear can be damaged by RA.
• Rheumatoid nodules occasionally develop in the ears, interfering with hearing.
• Vasculitis, a complication of RA, can damage the hair cells’ ability to transmit electrical signals to the auditory nerve and brain.
• Many of the medications used to treat inflammatory arthritis like RA can contribute to hearing loss.
Patients with RA should undergo regular hearing screenings to detect problems early. Call Arizona Hearing Specialists at 520-448-2895 to schedule an appointment.
(1) Emamifar, A., Bjoerndal, K., & Hansen, I. (2016). Is Hearing Impairment Associated with Rheumatoid Arthritis? A Review. Retrieved June 30, 2020, from https://benthamopen.com/ABSTRACT/TORJ-10-26