Rheumatoid arthritis can affect several parts of your body aside from your joints. As an inflammatory autoimmune disease, it can also increase your risk of developing a type of hearing loss known as sensorineural, which occurs when the cochlea in your inner ear is damaged. Damage can occur as a result of taking ototoxic medication or developing autoimmune inner ear disease, both of which are associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Here's what you need to know about how these two factors can impact your hearing:
Some drugs, such as salicylates and anti-inflammatories, used to treat rheumatoid arthritis are known to have ototoxic properties, meaning they can damage the delicate cells of your cochlea. Ototoxic drugs can cause hearing loss soon after you start taking them or the effects on your hearing can develop over a longer period of time. Depending on your arthritis symptoms, there may not be a suitable alternative to these drugs, but your rheumatologist can discuss the potential side effects with you in more detail should you wish.
Autoimmune Inner Ear Disease
When your immune system is overactive, as is the case with an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, it can attack any part of your body. When your inner ear comes under attack, your cochlea can be permanently damaged as a result of inflammation. Damage to your cochlea can prevent you hearing some or all sounds clearly, depending on which parts are damaged. Symptoms of autoimmune inner ear disease include ringing in your ears, dizziness and difficultly filtering out background noise.
Treating Sensorineural Hearing Loss
You can't recover hearing you've already lost due to sensorineural hearing loss, but there are treatment options you can explore with your audiologist and rheumatologist to prevent further hearing loss and to improve your current level of hearing. Treatment can include:
- Medication - Steroids can be used as a short-term treatment to reduce inflammation, but you should also have your current dose of immunosuppressant medication reviewed. If you're experiencing active inflammation in your inner ear, your current medication may no longer be dampening down your immune system as effectively as it once was. Your rheumatologist can perform a blood test to check your inflammatory markers.
- Hearing Aids - If only part of your cochlea is damaged, a hearing aid can be used to alter the sounds you struggle to hear as they enter your ear. Altering the frequency of these sounds allows the healthy part of your cochlea to pick up and transmit these sounds to your brain.
- Cochlear Implants - If your inner ear is severely damaged, a cochlear implant can improve the range of sounds you can hear by bypassing your inner ear altogether. A receiver is surgically implanted on your temporal bone and receives sound signals from an external microphone you can wear around your neck or on your belt. The receiver then transmits these sound signals to your brain, which processes them into what you end up hearing.
If you're concerned your hearing is deteriorating, schedule an appointment with an audiologist, such as those at Advanced Hearing Care, for a hearing test as soon as possible.