Our bodies require iron to grow, develop, and function properly, however, we aren’t equipped to make our own supply. It must be acquired through dietary measures or supplements. Without enough of this valuable mineral, we may suffer from iron-deficiency anemia (IDA), though this is only one of several forms of anemia.
According to the American Society for Hematology (ASH) there are several common types of anemia. Vitamin-deficiency anemia can occur when a person has lower levels of folate or vitamin B12 in their system. This is usually caused by the lack of a quality diet.
Another condition, called pernicious anemia occurs when the gastrointestinal tract can’t absorb vitamin B12. For those with a poor diet or particular intestinal diseases, these could affect the way the body absorbs iron, causing a deficiency. This condition is most commonly caused by lower iron levels in the blood due to pregnancy or heavy menstruation in women.
Iron-deficiency anemia is caused by a decreased level of a protein called hemoglobin which is located within the red blood cells. The hemoglobin is tasked with getting oxygen to the body’s tissues by way of attaching itself to oxygen when it’s in the lungs and transporting it to tissues throughout the entire body. The body needs iron to make this protein and without it, your tissues don’t receive the amount of oxygen they require.
It’s not uncommon for those with a mild to moderate amount of iron to show no symptoms, and they may not even be aware there’s a problem. Those who suffer from a severe case of anemia could have a multitude of signs and symptoms such as:
- Brittle nails
- Chest pain
- Cold hands and feet
- Fast or irregular heartbeat
- General fatigue
- Pale or yellow-tinted skin
- Pounding or “whooshing noise” in the ears
- Shortness of breath
- Strange cravings to eat non-food items like clay, dirt, or ice
- Tingling or crawling feeling in the legs
- Tongue swelling or soreness
What many aren’t aware of is that low iron may contribute to hearing loss. Hearing loss can mean a partial or full loss of the ability to hear in one or both ears. There are two main types of hearing loss, conductive (CHL) and sensorineural (SNHL).
Conductive hearing loss involves sound waves that are unable to be transmitted from the outer ear to the eardrum and areas within the middle ear. This can result in the person being unable to discern slight sounds in the affected ear. In many cases, CHL can be treated with surgery or other medical options.
Sensorineural hearing loss involves damage to the minute blood vessels and cochlea located within the ear, usually resulting in permanent damage. Due to the fact that IDA can be linked to disorders of the blood which can then lead to impairment of these small blood vessels, iron deficiency anemia could be a potential cause.
Researchers have been working towards confirming this. A study published on the association of anemia with sensorineural hearing loss indicates that people living with anemia are more likely to have hearing loss. Of more than 2.2 billion people around the world diagnosed with anemia, about 50 percent of them have IDA.
This study was the compilation of four previous studies and included 344,080 people from Hershey, Pennsylvania. These combined studies included both adults and children. The results spotlight a considerable amount of correlation between IDA and sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL).
According to the report posted on BioMedical Central’s website, “A recent study in the USA showed that the prevalence of hearing impairment was 3.0% in children with IDA, but 1.7% in those without IDA”.
Of the individuals included in this study, adults who suffered from iron-deficiency anemia had twice the risk of developing combined hearing loss as the individuals that did not suffer from IDA. They were almost two times more likely to develop SNHL.
Researchers also noted that there was no connection between IDA and conductive hearing loss. According to Kathleen Schieffer, lead researcher and doctoral student at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, prior research proposed that there were numerous potential reasons for a link between iron deficiency anemia and SNHL.
While any link between IDA and SNHL remains unproven, it’s a valid possibility. Due to the fact that iron carries oxygen to all tissues within the body, it’s likely that any shortage would affect the auditory region. It’s been hypothesized that since the cochlear area receives its blood supply from the internal auditory artery, the cochlea could suffer, creating a loss of hearing if the oxygen supply was lacking due to low iron.
Scientists are also considering the role that iron plays within the nervous system. Iron is a requirement for DNA synthesis, nerve myelination, and neurotransmitter metabolism. It’s a crucial component for neurological functions due to the role it plays in oxidative metabolism.
While further studies are needed, this data helps point researchers in the right direction. Armed with this information, there may one day be a way to preempt the loss of hearing due to iron deficiency anemia. If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with low iron as well as hearing loss, make an appointment with your hearing health professional for an evaluation and be sure to mention you have IDA.