by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
The Washington Post (June 26, 2008) ran a piece entitled “Sudden Hearing Loss May Portend Stroke” The first three paragraphs read:
Sudden hearing loss may foreshadow a stroke by as much as two years,” say Taiwanese researchers.
The researchers analyzed five years of follow-up data on 1,423 patients hospitalized for an acute episode of sudden hearing loss and found they were more than 1.5 times more likely to suffer a stroke than a control group of 5,692 patients hospitalized for an appendectomy.
The findings, published in the current issue of Stroke, haven’t been duplicated in other research and should be interpreted with caution.
The article then goes on to muddy the waters and reaches no clear conclusions.
What the researchers don’t seem to realize is that this can make sense. if a person has a build-up of “gunk” in their arteries (to use a fancy medical term), and if that gunk should travel to one of the arteries in (or leading to) the inner ear and block blood flow there, the result is sudden and drastic hearing loss.
If the same gunk had traveled to the brain and blocked an artery there, the result would have been a stroke. Same condition—just a different location.
Now, since the arteries in the inner ear are among the smallest in the body, it doesn’t take much to block them. Thus such episodes of sudden hearing loss truly may indicate an underlying problem that, if not fixed, may lead to strokes and heart attacks if bigger pieces of gunk lodge in the brain or heart respectively. Thus it behooves us to heed warnings such as sudden hearing loss of vascular origin.
Having said that, there are lots of causes of sudden hearing loss that have nothing at all to do with vascular issue. Thus, don’t think if you get sudden hearing loss, you will get a stroke later—but it might be a precursor if you already have vascular issues.