If you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you may already know that it can affect nearly every part of the body. Did you know that it can also affect the teeny tiny bones, joints and cartilage in the ears?
Recent research shows that those with RA are at an increased risk for ear problems, including hearing loss and autoimmune inner ear disease.
What the Research Shows
This link was first publicized in 2006 when the Arthritis Foundation released a study showing people with RA are at an increased risk for hearing problems. This research is corroborated by newer research, published in 2016, in the journal Bentham Open.
Yet another study, published in Rheumatology International in June of this year, looked at data from over 20,000 RA patients and determined that they are approximately four times as likely to develop sensorineural hearing loss compared to those without.
According to the authors, “RA is associated with multiple extra-articular manifestations (EAMs) … Middle ear, cochlea, and the auditory nerve are suspected sites of RA activity, and hearing loss is a possible novel EAM of RA … Early screening of RA patients with pure tone audiometry should be considered.”
How RA Can Contribute to Hearing Loss
There are a few theories floating around about the nature of the link between RA and hearing loss.
For people with RA, certain lifestyle factors may further increase risk of hearing loss. The authors of the 2016 study cited above argue that environmental factors like noise exposure, smoking cigarettes and alcohol use could worsen hearing impairment. They also noted that RA patients with a long history of alcohol use are especially susceptible.
Quitting smoking, reducing drinking and incorporating steroids and DMARDs as part of RA treatment may help reduce risk of hearing loss.
RA can cause inflammation in ear cartilage, which may be another contributing factor to hearing loss. This can present in a number of ways:
- Joints between the tiny bones in the ear may become damaged by inflammatory arthritis, just like the other joints in the body.
- Rheumatoid nodules may develop in the ears, which can interfere with hearing.
- People with RA tend to overproduce clusters of antibodies and antigens, and deposits of these clusters on the sensory hair cells of the inner ear can destroy them.
- Inflammation of blood vessels, a serious complication of RA, can damage these hair cells as well.
- Medications used for RA, including salicylates and other NSAIDS, antimalarial drugs and other antirheumatic drugs can affect hearing.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call the experts at Hearing Center of Lake Charles today.