Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disorder that produces chronic inflammation in the joints. RA occurs when the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells, resulting in inflammation that typically attacks specific areas. The joints that are most impacted by RA include joints in the: hands, knees, and wrists. RA can impact various organs and systems as tissues throughout the body can also be impacted. This includes the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing which includes the ears and brain. Studies show that RA can increase the risk of hearing loss. 

Link Between Hearing Loss and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Research shows that there is a correlation between rheumatoid arthritis and hearing loss. Numerous studies reveal RA as a risk factor for hearing loss. This includes the following studies: 

  • 2001 Study: researchers did a comparative analysis of hearing loss among people with RA compared to those without RA. They found that hearing loss was present among 60% of people with RA compared to 34% of those without RA.
  • 2016 Study: researchers conducted a comprehensive review of clinical reports related to people with RA and hearing loss. Based on their review, researchers concluded that people with RA are at higher risk for hearing loss. They found that rates of hearing loss were anywhere between 25% to 72% higher among people with RA. 
  • 2019 Study: researchers compared rates of hearing loss among patients with RA (7,619) and patients without RA (30,476). They found that people with RA were 40% more likely to experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss. 

These studies highlight a signal correlation between rheumatoid arthritis and hearing loss. This contributes to extensive research that shows that numerous medical conditions, including RA, can increase the risk of developing hearing loss. 

Impact of RA on Hearing Health

Experts suggest that RA can impact the auditory system and hearing health in a few ways that result in hearing loss. This includes: 

  • Ear damage: RA is characterized by the immune system mistakenly attacking healthy cells and tissues. Though common areas include the wrists, hands, and knees; cells in the ears can also be impacted. Rheumatoid nodules can form under the skin and these lumps can also develop in the outer and/or middle portions of the ear. This can then block soundwaves from being fully absorbed which creates hearing challenges. 

Another way RA can impact hearing health is through the excess antibodies and antigens that develop which can accumulate on hair cells in the inner ear. This can damage these sensory cells which play a critical role in how sound is processed. These cells send auditory information to the brain which then assigns meaning to the sound we hear. Damaged hair cells prevent this function, causing hearing loss. Lastly, RA can produce inflammation in the joints between the tiny bones in the middle ear. The ossicles – three connected bones – in the middle ear help propel soundwaves further into the inner ear. Inflamed joints can prevent this, also resulting in hearing loss. 

  • Medications: Another cause of hearing loss is certain medications which are ototoxic. This means that they are potentially harmful to the hair cells in the inner ear. Medications used to treat RA symptoms can potentially be ototoxic. They can restrict blood flow in the ears and impact the way sound is processed. It is important to check in with your healthcare providers about these potential side effects. 

If you or a loved one has RA, it is important to be proactive about your hearing health. There are numerous ways you can protect your hearing which reduces the impact of experiencing hearing loss. 

Tips to Protect Hearing Health

There are a few ways you can protect your hearing health including the following: 

  • Check-in with healthcare provider: be sure to discuss your treatment plan for RA with your healthcare provider. Ask about any side-effects of medications you are prescribed and if hearing loss is listed, ask about alternative options. 
  • Reduce loud noise exposure: loud noise is a common cause of hearing loss. You can reduce your exposure and protect your hearing from loud noise in several ways. This includes: wearing hearing protection, maintaining low volume settings, avoiding noisy settings etc. 
  • Have hearing tested regularly:  integrating hearing tests in annual health screenings is a great way to minority your hearing health. 

These strategies can protect your hearing health. Contact us to learn more about how you can prioritize your hearing health and wellness.