January 02 2017. An article published online on December 29, 2016, in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery reports an association between iron deficiency anemia and hearing loss. Kathleen M. Schieffer, BS, of Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and colleagues evaluated data from 305,339 men and women between the ages of 21 and 90 years who visited Penn State Hershey Medical Center during 2011-2015 and had information available concerning serum ferritin and hemoglobin levels. Low serum ferritin levels were defined as less than 12.0 nanograms per milliliter and low hemoglobin levels were determined according to age and sex.
Hearing loss identified during past visits was categorized as conductive (associated with the bones of the middle ear), sensorineural, or combined loss (conductive and/or sensorineural loss, deafness or loss due to unspecified causes). Subjects who had iron deficiency anemia had 82% higher odds of being diagnosed with sensorineural hearing loss and a greater than two-fold increased risk of combined hearing loss. While too much iron is undesirable for many reasons, deficient levels are also associated with potentially severe adverse conditions. The authors note that only one artery supplies blood to the cochlea of the ear and that low hemoglobin levels that impair the blood’s oxygen carrying capacity can lead to ischemia in this area.
“Iron deficiency anemia is easily treated with several months of oral iron supplementation,” Dr. Schieffer and colleagues observe. “Iron deficiency anemia is associated with a large number of related morbidities (eg, fatigue and reduced work capacity), which are also likely to improve with treatment. Additional studies are needed to determine whether there is a link between iron supplementation and hearing status.”