According to a new large population-based study, sleep apnea is an independent risk factor for hearing loss in both the low-frequency and high-frequency ranges.

Although the results are preliminary and haven’t been peer-reviewed yet, this represents a new potential danger of sleep apnea.

A Large Study of the Hispanic Population

The results presented at the 2014 American Thoracic Society International Conference are from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos conducted by the Albany Medical Center in New York. Researchers looked 13,967 subjects, and gave them all in-home sleep apnea studies and tested their hearing at their facilities. They designated subjects with sleep apnea if they met the definition of moderate sleep apnea, having an apnea-hypopnea index (AHI) of 15 or more.

Researchers defined hearing loss as having a hearing threshold higher than 25 decibels. High frequency hearing was tested at several intervals from 2000-8000 Hz and low-frequency hearing was tested at 500 Hz and 1000 Hz.

Overall, about 10% of subjects had sleep apnea, 19% had high frequency hearing impairment, 1.5% had low-frequency hearing impairment, and 8.4% had both high and low frequency hearing impairment. Although hearing impariment was more common among some subsets of the Latino community (namely Cubans and Puerto Ricans), it was independently associated with sleep apnea. Sleep apnea resulted in a 90% increase in low-frequency hearing impairment, and a 38% increase in combined hearing loss, after adjusting for external noise exposure and other factors known to cause hearing impairment. Hearing loss also increased with BMI and with self-reported snoring.

Limitations of the Study

It’s always important to take a moment to consider the limitations of a study before we decide to accept its conclusions. In this case, the study seems pretty good. With such a large population, and every subject undergoing an actual sleep test and hearing test l, it has much to recommend it.

However, the study hasn’t been published in a scholarly journal, which means it hasn’t been evaluated by other scientists to determine whether its methods are really sound or not.

And because this study focuses exclusively on a Latino population, we don’t know whether the effects are the same for other ethnic groups.

But what this study does do is remind us about the manifold dangers of sleep apnea, which is why you should seek treatment if you suspect the condition.

If you feel you have sleep apnea, we have an effective non-surgical option. Please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado at (303) 691-0267 to schedule an appointment.