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May 21, 2014 11:28 AM EDT

Sleep Apnea Linked To Hearing Impairment

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People with a common sleep disorder may also have a higher risk of hearing loss, according to a recent study the Huffington Post reported.

Researchers at the Albany Medical Center found that sleep apnea, a breathing disorder that disrupts air flow and can result in a poor night's rest, was associated with hearing impairment at both high and low frequencies.

"We found that sleep apnea was independently associated with hearing impairment at both high and low frequencies after adjustment for other possible causes of hearing loss," Amit Chopra,  lead author of the study, said in a statement.

For the study, researchers collected data from nearly 14,000 from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos.

All subjects underwent successful in-home sleep apnea studies and on-site audiometric testing at baseline. Sleep apnea was assessed with the apnea-hypopnea index (AHI), which indicates sleep apnea severity based on the number of apnea (complete cessation of airflow) and hypopneas (partial cessation of airflow) per hour of sleep.

Among the participants, nearly 10 percent had at least moderate sleep apnea, 19 percent had high frequency impairment, 1.5 percent had low frequency hearing impairment and 8.4 percent had both high and low frequency hearing impairment.

"The mechanisms underlying this relationship merit further exploration. Potential pathways linking sleep apnea and hearing impairment may include adverse effects of sleep apnea on vascular supply to the cochlea via inflammation and vascular remodeling or noise trauma from snoring," Dr. Chopra said.

Nearly 18 million Americans are estimated to have sleep apnea.

Researchers also found that hearing impairment was more common among individuals of Cuban and Puerto Rican descent and among those with a higher body mass index, self-reported snoring and/or sleep apnea.

The findings were recently presented at the 2014 American Thoracic Society International Conference.

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