This happens either because of a blocked airway or the brain not sending the body the correct signals to breathe. In addition to depriving the heart, brain, and body of oxygen, recent studies indicate that sleep apnea can contribute to hearing problems as well.

What are the symptoms of sleep apnea?

Those who suffer from sleep apnea will experience a wide range of symptoms. These include daytime fatigue, loud and regular snoring, trouble falling asleep, headaches, gasping sounds while sleeping, difficulty concentrating, lethargy, and waking in the morning with a dry mouth or sore throat.

How does sleep apnea contribute to hearing problems?

There is strong evidence sleep apnea contributes to hearing problems. One study indicates that those with sleep apnea are more likely to have both high and low-frequency hearing loss. Additionally, findings indicate a link between sleep apnea and the condition known as tinnitus, which produces a ringing, buzzing, or clicking sound in the inner ear.

While researchers are still studying whether sleep apnea causes hearing problems or if the reverse is true, there’s no doubt there’s a connection. Because sleep apnea causes inflammation throughout the body, a reduction in blood flow to organs like the heart and even the ears takes place. This can damage the tiny hairs in the inner ear, known as the cochlea, that are responsible for sending electrical signals from the ear’s nerve to the brain. When this occurs, the result is hearing loss and/or tinnitus.

What’s more, because sleep apnea produces loud snoring, an individual may experience hearing loss from the noisy, sustained sounds they are producing. It is widely known that prolonged exposure to high decibels of sound can contribute to hearing loss.

Risk factors for sleep apnea

There are certain risk factors that may increase the chance that a person will experience sleep apnea. Middle-aged men, those who are obese with a body mass index (BMI) of 25 or over, people with a neck that is at least 17 inches in diameter, and those with high blood pressure are all at a heightened risk for developing sleep apnea.

Treating sleep apnea and preventing hearing loss

The best way to prevent hearing loss from sleep apnea is to directly treat sleep apnea itself. Currently, the medical community recognizes Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) therapy as the best treatment for those who suffer from sleep apnea.

CPAP works by increasing blood oxygen levels and blood flow, which in turn, will lower the risk of sleep apnea-related hearing problems. While there is no conclusive evidence that CPAP will prevent hearing problems, anecdotal evidence reported by those undergoing the treatment indicates an improvement in tinnitus symptoms.

If you or someone you know struggles with sleep apnea, seeking treatment from a physician, along with a healthy lifestyle could improve your quality of life and even minimize the odds of sustaining permanent hearing loss.