Hearing Loss and Arthritis
Written by Kimberly Ledda, Au.D.
Arthritis is the leading cause of adult disability affecting approximately 54 million people (Arthritis Foundation, 2018). While there are almost 100 types of clinically diagnosed arthritis and related disorders, it affects people across all demographics and results in experiencing fluctuating levels of pain, limitations of mobility, and stiffness (Arthritis Foundation, 2018). Experience with arthritis is affected by environmental factors such as taking medications for treatment, characteristics of the disease such as a systemic disease, and patient characteristics such as ageing.
Arthritis as a Systemic Disease
As a systemic disease, arthritis affects the whole body and the ear is not excluded. When the ear is affected, it is difficult to treat due to its remote location. Additionally, the ear must have a specific fluid composition and amount of blood flow or else damage can occur. For a person with arthritis, it is possible that the antibodies within the body react with the antigens found within the inner ear fluids in a way that causes damage.
Common medications used to support patients with arthritis include ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and aspirin. When taken in very high doses there can be changes in the function of the hearing mechanisms that result in hearing loss. The impact of using these medications on hearing health must be weighed with the benefits of using the medications for improved mobility and quality of life.
Arthritis affects approximately 50% of people aged 65 or older (Arthritis Foundation, 2018). Additionally, 30% of people between 65-70 years of age and 50% of people over 75 years of age have hearing loss (NIDCD 2016). When hearing loss and arthritis do occur together, there can be an accelerating or compounding effect of the hearing loss due to the nature of the disease and the medications taken.
Hearing aid technology has improved over the past several years to provide many options to patients with dexterity difficulty. One new technology includes rechargeable hearing aids which no longer require the hearing aid battery to be replaced every few days. Instead, the hearing aids are placed into a charger overnight. Another option for patients is the use of a battery magnet tool which picks up the battery with the magnet and allows the user to grasp the handle of the tool instead of the tiny battery. Additionally, there are several styles of hearing aids that are easier for inserting into the ear and are modified so they are easier to hold. Finally, direct connection to cell phones allows for hearing aid adjustments to be made on the phone instead of the tiny buttons on the hearing aids.
Obtaining a baseline hearing test is the first step toward understanding the impact arthritis has on hearing over time. The baseline hearing test will be the reference point for future hearing tests to compare to which can help track changes over time. There is no need to wait until the hearing loss is severe and impacting quality of life before taking action. The younger a person is when he or she first wears hearing aids, the greater the achievable success. Finally, tell your audiologist of your arthritis diagnosis so that you can work together to find a solution to the perceived barriers associated with hearing aids.
Arthritis Foundation (2018). Arthritis by the numbers/book of trusted facts and figures
Ilades, C. (2016). Hearing loss and rheumatoid arthritis: is there a link? Everyday Health
National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders. (2018). Age related hearing loss