It may surprise you to learn that if you have rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you’re at an increased risk for ear problems – in particular, hearing loss and autoimmune ear disease. This is because RA affects the tiny bones, joints and cartilage in the inner ear.
What the Studies Show
A 2006 article published in the Arthritis Foundation was first to identify this link, but other studies have provided further evidence of the connection.
A statement by authors reads: “Patients with RA are at higher risk of hearing impairment compared to healthy subjects in their course of the disease. The hearing impairment in RA seems to be a multifactorial condition. However, the mechanisms of injury, as well as the relative risk factors, are not completely clear.”
About one percent of the general population experiences RA, and around 75 percent of these people have sensorineural hearing loss (hearing loss caused by nerve damage).
The Paradox of Treating RA
Sensorineural hearing loss is typically treated with hearing aids, including for patients with RA. Sometimes treating RA alone helps alleviate hearing loss, but sometimes RA treatment causes further problems.
Another study, published in 2012 by the American Journal of Epidemiology, found that women who take ibuprofen or acetaminophen for two or more days per week (a common treatment for RA) are more likely to have hearing loss than those who rarely or never take these drugs.
This is because over-the-counter painkillers are shown to be ototoxic in large or continuous doses, meaning they cause nerve damage in the inner ears.
Uncertainty in the Research
While a number of studies have found a link between the two conditions, there is a discrepancy in the research. In 2006, the Mayo Clinic published an article stating there is no true link between RA and hearing loss, and that RA patients are simply more likely to perceive and report hearing loss than those without.
“I know I have to have some hearing loss. The constant ringing in my ears drives me insane,” said Chassy Wells of British Columbia, who experiences RA. “But my rheumatologist doesn’t think there’s a link.”
While much research has been conducted, there is still more to be done to further explore this link. If you have rheumatoid arthritis and feel that you experience hearing loss, it’s important to schedule a hearing test right away.
For more information or to schedule an appointment, call San Francisco Audiology today.