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Come again? Hearing impairment is linked to rheumatoid arthritis?

Most people probably think of inflammation and joint pain when they talk about rheumatoid arthritis. However, a recent study found that patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) might be more susceptible to hearing impairment than the healthy population.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation throughout the body. This usually leads to joint pain, but RA can also affect other parts of the body, including the skin, eyes, lungs, kidneys and the cardiovascular system. Recent reports have also suggested that this inflammatory disease can damage the auditory system and lead to hearing loss.

Researchers from Odense University Hospital in Denmark were interested in the relationship between RA and hearing impairment. They performed a thorough review of all studies published on the topic by searching in a number of reliable databases (Pubmed, Embase, Cochrane, and ComDisDome) and collectively looking at the results of these studies.

Their review found that hearing impairment in RA is relatively common, with estimates of 25-72% of people with RA suffering from sensorineural hearing loss. While the cause behind increased hearing loss in people with RA is still unclear, researchers believe it is likely due to a combination of many different factors, including exposure to things in the environment and progression of the RA itself.

Previous studies suggested a variety of different ways that RA itself may cause damage to the auditory system. For example, RA can cause rheumatoid nodules or inflammation of the joints in the ear that could cause issues with conduction of sound waves through the ear. The researchers noted that smoking, alcohol, and noise all have negative effects on the auditory system that might lead to worse hearing impairment in people with RA, but determining these relationships will require more research. Other factors that could play a role in hearing impairment include age and sex. In general, involvement of organ systems outside of the joints occurs in more severe cases of rheumatoid arthritis and is associated with increased age, presence of rheumatoid factor (RF) or antinuclear antibodies, early disability, and smoking. Therefore, early diagnosis and treatment is key to avoiding these complications.

If you have RA and are suffering from hearing loss, the best thing to do would be to talk to your doctor. There may be ways to prevent further impairment, especially as research studies continue to provide more answers.

 

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This information is intended for educational and informational purposes only. It should not be used in place of an individual consultation or examination or replace the advice of your health care professional and should not be relied upon to determine diagnosis or course of treatment.


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