What’s That? Lack Of Iron May Be Associated With Hearing Loss

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People with low levels of circulating iron – a mineral that’s essential to the health of red blood cells and muscle development – may also be more likely to suffer from hearing loss, suggests a new study.

Reporting in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery, a group of researchers from Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine in Hershey, Pa., discovered a positive association between iron deficiency anemia, a condition characterized by poor oxygen flow throughout the body, and both sensorineural hearing loss and combined hearing loss.

Courtesy: Mike Krzeszak Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Sensorineural hearing loss is the most prevalent type of hearing loss, notes the American Hearing Research Foundation. The condition has a number of causes, including old age, certain immune disorders, exposure to loud noise, and diseases such as otosclerosis and Meniere’s disease.

While the researchers caution that it’s too soon to add iron deficiency anemia as a cause, they say that hearing loss is “significantly associated” with low iron levels, according to the study.

“Because iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is a common and easily correctable condition, further understanding of the association between IDA and all types of hearing loss in a population of U.S. adults may help to open new possibilities for early identification and appropriate treatment,” write the authors.

Related: Report Indicates Fewer Americans Under 70 Are Losing Their Hearing

Iron deficiency is a common condition, most often affecting women and those whose diet is low in iron intake, such as vegetarians, according to the American Society of Hematology.

Iron is essential for the production of hemoglobin, a protein in red blood cells that conveys oxygen to other parts of the body. Low iron levels can lead to shortness of breath, headache, irritability, lack of energy, weight loss and other symptoms, according to the National Institutes of Health.

A Look at the Numbers

The research team, led by Kathleen M. Schieffer, BS, a doctoral student with Penn State University College of Medicine’s division of colon and rectal surgery, analyzed the health patterns of more than 305,000 patients who had an average age of 50 years.

Assessing the patients’ medical records, the researchers cross-referenced those with iron deficiency anemia who also suffered from a form of hearing loss. In all, they checked for three types of hearing loss – sensorineural, conductive hearing loss and combined hearing loss.

A smear indicating iron-deficiency anemia. Courtesy: Ed Uthman, CC BY-2.0

Ultimately, they found that people with iron deficiency anemia were 2.4 times likelier than those without iron deficiency anemia to suffer from combined hearing loss, which is a combination of both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss.

People with iron deficiency anemia were 1.8 times more likely to suffer from sensorineural hearing loss than those without low iron levels. No association was found between low iron and conductive hearing loss.

The authors hope that further investigation can show “whether screening and treatment of IDA in adults could have clinical implications in patients with hearing loss,” they write.

Health care providers use a complete blood count test to diagnose iron deficiency anemia. When diagnosed, patients will typically need to replenish their iron stores. Eating iron-rich foods, such as meat, fish, leafy greens, beans and even iron-enriched pastas, can help restock your iron supply. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe medicinal iron.

You can access the study, “Association of Iron Deficiency Anemia With Hearing Loss in U.S. Adults,” here.

Richard Scott
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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