August 15, 2006 Feature

Researchers Investigate Link Between Hearing Loss and Osteoporosis

Saint Louis University researchers are studying how osteoporosis, hearing loss, and dizziness may be related. The study hopes to enroll 300 to 400 women, who are affected by osteoporosis more often than men.

Anthony Mikulec, chief of otologic and neurotologic surgery and assistant professor in the department of otolaryngology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, has published research showing that patients with otosclerosis are more likely to have osteoporosis. In January, Mikulec and Kent Wehmeier, associate professor in the division of endocrinology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, began to study the relationship between bone loss and specific kinds of hearing loss and dizziness in post-menopausal women.

They hypothesize that bone loss is associated with otosclerosis, which causes the last of the three ear bones to vibrate improperly due to an overgrowth of bone in the area, and benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV), a type of dizziness where calcium carbonate crystals come loose in the ear and irritate nerve endings, causing a sensation of spinning.

More than half of people older than 50 are at significant risk of osteoporosis. Ten million Americans are estimated to have the disease, and another 34 million are thought to have low bone mass, placing them at increased risk for fracture. Eighty percent of those with osteoporosis are women.

Wehmeier said he and Mikulec hope to prove an association between hearing loss/vertigo and osteoporosis. Endocrinologists know what causes osteoporosis and how to successfully treat it, he says, but otosclerosis, which affects roughly 1% of Americans, is not as well understood.

"Much more work will be needed to determine the causes of otosclerosis," Wehmeier says. "Little research has been focused on this problem, so there is a lot of speculation as to the source of the increased bone."

The study will run for two to four years. A larger study will eventually need to be performed involving both men and women, Mikulec said, adding, "We eventually hope to be able to provide treatment recommendations based on the data obtained." 

Dee Naquin Shafer, an assistant managing editor of The ASHA Leader, can be reached at dshafer@asha.org.

cite as: Shafer, D. N. (2006, August 15). Researchers Investigate Link Between Hearing Loss and Osteoporosis. The ASHA Leader.

  

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