Hearing management

Updated 28 September 2018

Is there a link between iron deficiency and hearing loss?

Could a lack of this mineral affect your hearing? This is what medical research shows.

Your body needs the right nutrients in the right amounts to support its overall function and to ensure that everything is working as it should.

But is it possible that the deficiency of one important nutrient can put you at risk for hearing loss? According to researchers, iron deficiency and anaemia during childhood may affect your hearing later in life.

The study was conducted at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and published in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery, and followed 305 339 adults between the ages of 21 and 90.

The results of the study showed that those who suffered from anaemia as a result of iron deficiency (IDA) were twice as likely to have hearing loss later in life than those with sufficient amounts of iron.

“An association exists between IDA and hearing loss,” wrote the authors of the study. “The next steps are to better understand this correlation and whether promptly diagnosing and treating IDA may positively affect the overall health status of adults with hearing loss."

Earlier research 

Decades ago, a study conducted with rats showed the same outcome. This study showed that there might be a link between sudden sensorineural hearing loss and iron deficiency.

This study showed a significant result in the loss of spiral ganglion cells, abnormalities of the cochlea and changes in the hair cells of the ears when the rats were not fed enough iron.

What is the link?

What exactly is it that links this decline in hearing function to iron deficiency anaemia? According to specialists, while the studies prove that the right nutrients are needed to maintain proper hearing function, they don't provide positive proof that iron deficiency anaemia causes hearing loss (there is only a connection).

Ear-nose-and-throat specialist Peter Steyger of Oregon Health & Science University’s Oregon Hearing Research Centre, maintains there are several aspects that could link iron deficiency and hearing loss. 

"Iron is clearly required for normal functioning of the auditory system, as for many other organs, and too little can result in anaemia, the loss of haemoglobin in red blood cells which carry oxygen to the tissues in the body. Too little iron can also disrupt the workings of cells and even kill them, leading to hearing loss if that happens to hair cells in the inner ear”, he said.

Improve your iron absorption

Not sure if you are getting enough iron? Make sure you do the following:

  • Eat more iron rich foods such as lean red meat, fish and eggs.
  • Incorporate more vitamin C in your diet to help you absorb more iron.
  • Folic acid also helps prevent iron deficiency. Add this to your diet by including leafy green vegetables such as spinach.

Keep on protecting your hearing

Even if you are eating healthily to protect your body and ensure that everything is functioning as it should, it’s important to know that hearing loss can be gradual and unnoticeable. Take care of your hearing in the following ways:

  • Protect your hearing by wearing earplugs if you are constantly exposed to loud noise during the day (especially if you work in a factory or construction setting).
  • Take a break after attending a concert or exposing your ears to high levels of noise.
  • If your regularly listen to music through headphones, keep the volume at a safe level.
  • Stop cleaning your ears with earbuds, as these push wax further down the ear and may cause damage to the eardrums and increase your risk for infection.

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Minette Lister graduated with a Bachelor of Communication Pathology (Audiology) from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Westville in 2015. Thereafter, she completed her compulsory year of community service at Phoenix Assessment and Therapy Centre in Durban. In 2017, Minette started working for Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. She is passionate about working with children and adults to diagnose and manage hearing loss using state of the art technology. Minette offers hearing screening programmes for newborn and high-risk babies, as well as school-aged children, in order to decrease the incidence of late or unidentified hearing loss.

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