Low levels of iron in our body or iron deficiency can cause reduction in the number of healthy red blood cells which further can affect our immune system and make us more susceptible to illness and infection.
Iron Deficiency- an overview
An iron deficiency occurs when our body has insufficient quantity of iron, which is an essential element that our body needs to make a protein called hemoglobin which is responsible to carry oxygen from lungs to the rest of the body. If left untreated, the lack of iron could transform to iron deficiency anemia (IDA).
People with iron deficiency anemia have common symptoms like tiredness, lack of energy (lethargy), pale complexion, shortness of breath. Some less common symptoms include headache, hair loss, painful open sores, difficulty swallowing, feeling itchy etc.
Now scientists at the Pennsylvania State University in Hershey, Pa. have added one more health condition to this growing list of issues related to the IDA. They have found that this common nutritional deficiency can cause hearing loss as well.
They found, the IDA could be associated with sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), a type of deafness sometimes also called nerve deafness.
To determine a potential link between the iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss, lead researcher Kathleen M. Schieffer, B.S., a doctoral student at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine, and colleagues examined more than 305,000 adults ages 21 to 90 years in Hershey, Pennsylvania, who all were deficient of iron and had hearing problems.
“Overall, 1.6 percent of the general population is suffering from hearing loss, while 3.4 percent of individuals had hearing loss due to iron deficiency anemia,” Schieffer said.
The data analysis showed that iron deficiency anemia was strongly connected to two types of hearing loss – sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss. In the study, adults with IDA were at 2.4 times the risk of hearing loss versus those without the blood disorder. Those deficient of iron were also 1.8 times more likely to have sensorineural hearing loss, which occurs due to damage to the inner ear.
In addition, the overall risk for sensorineural hearing loss was 82 percent greater in people with the IDA compared to people without the nutritional deficiency.
“An association exists between IDA in adults and hearing loss. 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,” the researchers said.
The investigators, however, admitted that their study is preliminary with some limitations. They stressed the findings do not prove the cause and effect type of link between IDA and hearing loss.
Schieffer and colleagues reported their findings in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery.