You heard it here first … or, maybe you didn’t.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, there’s a chance you’re at an increased risk for ear problems such as varying levels of hearing loss as well as autoimmune inner ear disease.
Not only that, but RA can also affect the teeny, tiny bones, joints, and even the cartilage contained within the ear.
The link between hearing loss and RA is not exactly new. The Arthritis Foundation released a study in 2006 showing that RA patients were at an increased risk for hearing-related problems. This story also spoke to the link between rheumatoid arthritis and another autoimmune condition called autoimmune inner ear disease.
However, a link between RA and hearing loss is making headlines again, due to a more recent study on hearing impairment and RA that was published this spring in the medical journal Bentham Open.
Noise, Cigarettes, and Alcohol
The study, called “Is hearing impairment associated with rheumatoid arthritis: a review,” sought to more clearly define the possible link between hearing impairment and RA.
It also intended to further study the relationship between the disease and the possible comorbid syndrome (hearing loss).
According to a news release issued by the authors of the study to the media, “Elderly patients and those with long (RA) disease duration, active disease, sero-positivity, elevated acute phase reactants, and rheumatoid nodules are more likely to have HI (hearing impairment).”
They went on to say that some environmental factors including noise, cigarette smoke, and alcohol use could worsen the hearing impairment.
They noted that in RA patients the long-term use of alcohol seemed to particularly aggravate hearing loss.
But while the authors of the study suggested quitting smoking, cutting back on alcohol, and possibly incorporating steroids and DMARDs as part of the treatment plan, these suggestions are also in place for any patient with rheumatoid arthritis.
No Solution yet
A precise answer regarding the actual treatment of hearing impairment in RA patients, however, was not clearly defined.
Nor was RA necessarily established as a causative factor in all cases of hearing loss in patients, although an elevated risk for hearing loss was suggested among patients with RA.
“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,” said the authors.
Rheumatoid arthritis affects 1 percent of the general population, and up to 75 percent of RA patients seem to experience sensorineural hearing loss. While hearing aids and similar devices are an option for patients with RA and HI, they are not a requirement.
In fact, sometimes treating the RA alone can help ease conditions and syndromes such as hearing impairment.
But this is not always true. Sometimes the RA treatment is a part of the problem.
In 2012, a study was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. This particular study said that women who took ibuprofen or acetaminophen two days or more per week were more apt to report hearing loss versus those who rarely — or never — took these medications.
Inflammation a Factor
Sometimes, however, inflammation is a factor, such as when it comes to AIED or RA inflammation in the ear cartilage.
That alone can cause some hearing loss.
According to vestibular.org, RA isn’t the only condition that can cause inflammation and autoimmunity in the ear.
“Some autoimmune disorders that can affect the ear include Cogan’s syndrome, relapsing polychondritis, polyarteritis nodosa, Wegener’s granulomatosis, systemic lupus erythematosus, ulcerative colitis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and rheumatoid arthritis,” says a fact sheet on their website.
“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 has adult-onset RA. “But my rheumatologist doesn’t think there’s a link.”
Her rheumatologist may be on to something.
In 2006, the Mayo Clinic said that there isn’t actually a true link between RA and hearing loss. They stated that RA patients are just more likely to perceive and report hearing loss than patients without RA.
Thus, patients and doctors will have to wait to see what comes out of further research regarding the issue of RA and hearing loss.
For now, it seems that there are too many contradicting opinions floating around to be sure.