Q: Recently in your newsletter, I’ve noticed questions and answers associating diseases with hearing loss. I’ve really enjoyed learning more about how our internal systems are related. I suffer from sickle cell disease and have recently noticed a change in my hearing. Can you help explain this?
A: Thanks for your question. We’re happy to answer this for you and glad you noticed the many correlations between hearing loss and other diseases and disorders. As you know, sickle cell disease (SCD), or sickle-cell anemia, is a recessive genetic blood disorder due to abnormally sickle-shaped red blood cells. These red blood cells become hard and aren’t able to pass through small blood tubes. As a result, they clog and/or break apart, causing pain, damage, and a low blood count. It is the most common genetic disease in the United States; about 70-80,000 Americans suffer from this disorder.
Individuals with SCD are more likely to suffer hearing loss as a result. More specifically, there’s an increased likelihood of 41%, mostly unilateral. This is a direct result of damage to the cochlea’s receptor cells.
An additional factor that you need to be aware of is the relationship between SCD and the risk of developing meningitis, which is higher in this population. Meningitis is the inflammation of the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. The most common symptoms of meningitis are headache and neck stiffness associated with fever, confusion or altered consciousness, vomiting, and the inability to tolerate light or loud noises. These symptoms are also the same ones patients with the diagnosis of sickle cell anemia experience. Meningitis should be taken seriously because of the proximity to the brain and spinal cord. A complication of meningitis is hearing loss, which makes it a sensitive issue with sickle cell patients.
It’s important to recognize that our body systems are all connected. Once one is affected, it’s vital to ensure other areas of our body are functioning at optimal levels. We encourage individuals with sickle cell disease to be informed about the risk of hearing loss. Have your hearing tested annually by an audiologist for a more accurate diagnosis and steps for prevention and/or treatment.
Randa Mansour-Shousher, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).