Sleep Apnea & Sudden Hearing Loss: Is There A Connection?

January 20, 2012

I’ve been saying all along that people with sudden sensorineural hearing loss have higher rates of sleep-breathing problems. Almost 100% of the time, whenever I see someone with sudden hearing loss that’s not explained by a brain tumor, the upper airway looks exactly like someone who has obstructive sleep apnea. These people typically can’t or prefer not to sleep on their backs. Many will also snore, and have parents that snore heavily.

A recent article published in the Archives of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery found that people with sudden sensorineural hearing loss were more likely to have obstructive sleep apnea. The authors combed  through insurance records and found that, after adjusting for various confounding factors, male patients with this type of hearing loss were 1.4 times more likely to have prior OSA than controls. This was statistically significant. The fact that women didn’t have this finding could be explained by the fact that the overall numbers of people with sudden sensorineural hearing loss is very small, and men have a much higher rate of obstructive sleep apnea than women. Just like all other medical journal articles, it concludes by saying this doesn’t prove that sleep apnea causes sudden sensorineural hearing loss, and that further studies are needed.

The authors’ explanation is that plaque buildup in blood vessels that reach the inner ears can clog up and create blockages. I’ve written in the past that people with OSA have much thicker blood, which can also clot more easily. Untreated obstructive sleep apnea causes massive inflammation in blood vessels and the brain, which can lead to a variety of medical ailments.

If you’ve ever suffered from sudden sensorineural hearing loss, can you sleep on your back at all? 

3 Responses to “Sleep Apnea & Sudden Hearing Loss: Is There A Connection?”

  1. Dr. Deb on January 21st, 2012 1:46 am
  2. Alan on June 13th, 2012 4:27 pm

    My experience with sudden hearing loss coincided with an attempt to wear a new cpap mask. The new mask was extremely light weight and I believe that I may have blocked the air release holes while sleeping. I’ve used the same “Breeze” nasal pillows and dreamseal masks for 9 years before this incident. i am left with periodic tinnitus and speech recognition difficulties in one ear going on 3 years now. My assumption was that ETD was the issue, but no one can really tell me the cause.

  3. Sam on December 13th, 2013 11:59 pm

    So my boyfriend has severe sleep apnea and sleeps with a cpap for years now , however four days ago he experienced what he thought was a clogged ear when it wasnt getting better he went to his gen dr and they chucked it up to wax flushed it out and sent hi in his way. Clearly not improving in fact getting worse he called her back and she sent him to a ent who has now diagnosed him with sudden hearing loss and were waiting an MRI. From what she said he currently has 20% hearing in his right ear and there is a slight chance that the pills he was put on will do anything. They ent dr seemed to think that there was no connection I’m not one to take no for an answer anyone have any thoughts on the next step?

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