How can the noise around you impact your risk for heart attack and stroke? In preparation for February’s American Heart month, it's important to understand more about the Ear-Heart connection and how to reduce your risks.
They say the eyes are the windows to the soul. But a recent study reveals that the ears may be a passageway to the heart. As we turn attention to heart health awareness during the month of February, it is important to understand this vital connection between our ears and our heart.
We’ve all heard that noise induced hearing loss affects people of all ages – in fact nearly 36 million Americans are impacted. We’ve also learned how reduced blood flow due to cardiovascular disease can impact the blood vessels nourishing other body systems including your inner ear which can lead to hearing loss. But a recent study1 conducted by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital now indicates that chronic noise exposure may increase the risks for cardiovascular conditions. Bringing to light a new twist on the Ear-Heart connection.
The preliminary findings reveal that people with the highest levels of chronic noise exposure – such as highway and airport noise – had a three-fold increased risk of suffering cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes, regardless of other factors known to increase cardiovascular risk.
Determining Heart Health
Using PET and CT images, the researchers assessed the activity of the amygdala – an area of the brain involved in stress regulation and emotional responses. To capture cardiovascular risk, the researchers examined the participants’ medical records following the initial imaging studies. Of the 499 participants, 40 experienced a cardiovascular event (e.g., heart attack or stroke) in the five years following the initial testing.
Factor in the Noise
To gauge noise exposure, the researchers used participants’ home addresses and derived noise level estimates from the Department of Transportation’s Aviation and Highway Noise Map.
Individuals with the highest levels of noise exposure had higher levels of amygdalar activity and more inflammation in their arteries. Notably, these people also had a greater than three-fold risk of suffering a heart attack or a stroke and other major cardiovascular events, compared with people who had lower levels of noise exposure. That risk remained elevated even after the researchers accounted for other cardiovascular and environmental risk factors, including air pollution, high cholesterol, smoking and diabetes.
The Ear-Heart Bottom Line
Both you and your doctor should consider chronic noise exposure not only contributing to hearing loss but as a risk factor when assessing cardiovascular health. Taking steps to minimize chronic noise exposure, wearing appropriate hearing protection and scheduling periodic hearing tests to note any changes will keep both your ears and your heart healthy. Let us help you set an appointment with a hearing care provider near you.
1 American Heart Association. "Chronic exposure to excess noise may increase risk for heart disease, stroke." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 5 November 2018. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/11/181105081749.htm>.