The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck. It produces important hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism. An estimated 20 million people have a thyroid disorder. However, according to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), up to 60% of people with thyroid disease are actually unaware that they have thyroid issues. Thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism, affect the production of the thyroid hormone which supports how the body converts nutrients into energy. This creates a range of symptoms that can also contribute to the development of other health conditions including hearing loss.
Types of Thyroid Gland Disorders
The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body’s metabolic rate by sending messages to the cells, communicating how much energy is needed to sustain the body. When the gland’s ability to do this is impacted, this is referred to as a thyroid gland disorder. The ATA estimates that more than 12% of people will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. This includes:
- Hypothyroidism: this is when the thyroid is underactive which means that the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones to meet the body’s needs.
- Symptoms: fatigue, depression, muscle aches and/or pain, inability to focus, constipation, weight gain, dry skin, sensitivity to the cold
- Causes: inflammation of the thyroid gland. This inflammation can be caused by autoimmune disorders or other health factors
- Hyperthyroidism: the thyroid gland is overactive, producing an excess of thyroid hormones
- Symptoms: increased heart rate, increased bowel movements, weight loss, anxiety, perspiration, muscles feel weak, brittle hair and nails
- Causes: grave’s disease (a type of autoimmune disorder), high amounts of iodine intake, toxic multinodular goiter
- Thyroid nodules: describes lumps or masses on the thyroid gland which can develop as a result of cysts and tumors that are benign.
- Thyroid cancer: this is not as common of a thyroid disorder and is typically highly treatable. There are different types of thyroid cancer, depending on the specific cells that become cancerous.
Thyroid disorders are often life-long conditions that people can effectively manage with medical treatment.
Link Between Hypothyroidism & Hearing Loss
One of the hormones that is produced less when people have hypothyroidism is thyroxine. This specific hormone also supports the auditory system which is responsible for how we hear, process, and understand sound. Research has shown that there is a correlation between hypothyroidism and hearing loss. In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, researchers evaluated the hearing of people with and without hypothyroidism. The study included 1202 participants who completed questionnaires on their health status and had their hearing examined. Researchers found that compared to people without hypothyroidism, people with the condition were:
- 3 times more likely to experience hearing loss
- 17% required hearing loss support in early adulthood
These findings reveal that hypothyroidism can be a risk factor that increases the likelihood of hearing loss development. It is incredibly important to not only seek treatment for this condition, but to also prioritize your hearing healthcare.
Treatment for Hypothyroidism
Treatments depend on the specific thyroid disorder a person is experiencing. For hypothyroidism specifically, treatment usually involves thyroid replacement medications. These are synthetic medications (synthetic thyroid hormones) that restore adequate hormone levels. These medications also alleviate symptoms produced by hypothyroidism – lowering cholesterol levels, weight gain, fatigue etc.
Have Your Hearing Assessed
In addition to treating hypothyroidism, it is important to be proactive about your hearing health. A great way to do this is by having your hearing assessed regularly (once per year). Hearing tests involve a noninvasive and painless process that measures your hearing capacity in both ears. This identifies any hearing loss, the degree, and specific type that could be present. Once your hearing needs are established, your hearing healthcare provider (like an audiologist) is able to make effective recommendations to meet those needs. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which are electronic devices that provide ample hearing support. Designed to absorb and process sound, hearing aids maximize hearing in all environments. You can easily prioritize your hearing health today by scheduling an appointment for a hearing test!