Understanding The Link Between Rheumatoid Arthritis And Hearing Loss

Posted on: 8 April 2016

Although often associated with joint degradation, rheumatoid arthritis can affect several parts of your body. It's an inflammatory autoimmune disease, and the condition can cause your body's immune system to damage your inner ear. Additionally, medication used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can damage your hearing. Here's an overview of how these two factors can contribute to hearing loss and the associated treatment options:

Medication-Induced Hearing Loss 

Rheumatoid arthritis is often treated with salicylates and anti-inflammatories, and some of these types of medication are considered ototoxic. This simply means they can damage the part of your cochlea, located in your inner ear, that's responsible for transporting sounds from your ear to your brain for translation. The effects of these drugs on your hearing can take some time to become apparent, and your rheumatologist can discuss the pros and cons of these medications and alternative treatment options in more detail.

Autoimmune-Induced Hearing Loss

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have an overactive immune system that can attack the delicate structure of the inner ear. This causes a condition known as autoimmune inner ear disease, which triggers inflammation and makes it difficult to hear all or certain types of sound clearly. In addition to hearing loss, the inflammation caused by this condition can leave you feeling dizzy and you may also experience ringing in your ears.

Treatment Options

It's not currently possible to recover hearing you've already lost due to ototoxic medication or an overactive immune system, but there are steps you can take to maximise your current level of hearing and prevent further damage.

Your rheumatologist can take a blood sample to check whether your current medication needs to be reviewed. If the prescribed dose is not dampening down your immune system enough, inflammation can occur. Changing your immunosuppressant medication or taking a course of corticosteroids can bring autoimmune-induced hearing loss under control.

If a hearing test shows your cochlea is only partially damaged, you'll be able to use a hearing aid to improve the range of sounds you can hear clearly. For example, the hearing aid can be programmed to convert high-frequency sounds to lower frequencies. Once these sounds are converted, the tiny cells in your cochlea can then process them and transmit them to your brain.

A severely damaged cochlea can be bypassed with a cochlear implant. This device is surgically implanted on your temporal bone and sends sound signals directly to your brain from an external microphone. Cochlear implants improve both volume and range of sounds you can hear.

If you'd like to discuss the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on your hearing, or if you've experienced any deterioration of your hearing, schedule an appointment with an audiologist as soon as possible. 

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