Did you know that hearing loss may impact approximately 30% of people living with lupus? Yes, hearing loss is a symptom of lupus as well as other autoimmune diseases – most commonly found in middle-aged to older women. That is why it is often mistaken for age-related hearing loss.
“Autoimmune inner-ear disease” (AIED) was first described by Brian McCabe in his 1979 paperwhere he reported on 18 patients whose lupus symptoms included hearing loss which was due to damage to the nerves and structures of the inner ear.
Hearing Loss and Lupus: What You Should Know
When someone has what is known as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the immune system attacks the cells and structures it perceives as “intruders” throughout the body. These attacks often target specific organs or structures such as the skin and kidneys, but other parts of the body are also at risk of damage – this includes the inner ear.
Hearing Loss Studies on Lupus
There have been studies conducted exploring the typical symptoms and prevalence of hearing loss with lupus. A self-directed questionnaire given to 84 people in 1998, one of the first of its kind, showed the following:
- 31% (26 of 84) of lupus patients experienced some aural symptoms
- 15% of participants (13 of 84) reported loss of hearing in one ear (unilateral) with or without tinnitus (ringing)
- 17% of participants (14 of 84) reported loss of hearing in both ears (bilateral) with or without tinnitus
NOTE: In terms of statistics, there were no significant differences related to other factors, such as the age duration of lupus or noise exposure.
In a 2013 study conducted at a teaching hospital in Qazvin City, Iran. 45 participants who had lupus were compared to matched controls. If they had been exposed to high levels of noise, had taken certain medications, or had a history of ear infections of head trauma, they were not included in this study. The study found:
- 26.7% (12 of 45) of people with lupus had sensorineural hearing loss
How Does Lupus Affect Your Hearing?
SLE is known to cause vasculitis. Vasculitis is the blockage or stiffening of blood vessels in the body and can be a result of autoimmune damage or a build-up of immune cells and immune cell residues in the circulatory system. Vasculitis can cause hearing loss in a few different ways. It can block oxygen flow to hair cells and the auditory nerve. It can also cause fatigue, thus leading to poor hearing. And in some cases, it can cause small minor strokes which damage the brain and negatively affect the hearing.
How is Lupus-Related Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
At Kenwood Hearing Center, we always tell people that they should get their hearing checked regularly, especially if they are over the age of 35, as “age was an independent risk factor for SSHL (Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss) for individuals greater than the age of 35 years compared with those 0–34 years old.” (source) This can allow hearing loss to be caught quickly and treated. However, attributing the hearing loss to SLE can sometimes be difficult. Blood tests and analyzing other symptoms can help.
Treatment for Lupus-Related Hearing Loss
Besides normal medication that is taken to treat lupus, there are a few other treatment options that can help improve one’s hearing or restore some function, and they include:
- Hearing Aids
- Cochlear Implants