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Check Your Thyroid – Help Your Hearing

Thyroid disease is actually not a single condition, but rather a term that encompasses any condition that interferes with proper thyroid gland function. Some of these conditions can affect your hearing as well as your overall health, so it’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis of whatever form of thyroid disease you may have.

What the thyroid gland is supposed to do

Your thyroid―a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck― is an integral part of your endocrine system. This array of glands governs many of your body’s natural activities. The thyroid gland produces T3 and T4 hormones responsible for regulating your body’s metabolism, which when working properly gives you the energy you need to function.

What happens when it malfunctions

When your thyroid doesn’t work properly it supplies either too many or too few hormones, causing a disruption in your endocrine system and to your body’s normal activities. With too few hormones, your metabolism slows to a crawl (hypothyroidism); with too many, it races (hyperthyroidism). The result of either is an often confounding array of symptoms, including:

  • Weight gain or loss

  • Depression and anxiety

  • Tachycardia (rapid heartbeat)

  • Greater sensitivity to heat or cold

  • Menstrual cycle disruption

Thyroid conditions associated with hearing difficulties

The three thyroid-linked conditions associated with hearing loss, loss of balance, and tinnitus are the following:

Pendred Syndrome

This genetic disorder often causes the thyroid to enlarge (a condition called goiter) and can interfere with balance. It also causes hearing loss in children at birth or by the time they reach the age of three. Hearing loss is often progressive, worse in one ear than the other, and may cause total deafness in some individuals. While Pendred Syndrome is incurable, a treatment team (which should include an audiologist) can work with families to reduce progression of hearing loss in some cases, or at least prepare options for treatment should hearing loss become significant.

Grave’s disease

This autoimmune disorder causes hyperthyroidism. Besides goiter and other indicators of an overactive metabolism, it can cause serious eye and skin problems. Approximately ten times more women than men are likely to have Grave’s disease. The occurrence of hearing loss is lower in Grave’s disease patients than in those with Pendred’s disease. However, significant hearing loss at the higher frequencies has been identified in studies of Grave’s disease patients compared to control groups without the condition.

Hashimoto’s disease

This hypothyroid condition has so many and subtle symptoms at the onset that it is often difficult to diagnose. The exact cause is unknown, but is suspected to include a combination of genes, hormones, and exposure to radiation or excessive amounts of iodine. However, as it progresses, more pronounced and concerning symptoms may crop up, including hearing loss. Some patients also experience tinnitus (phantom ringing or buzzing-type noise). Like Grave’s disease, Hashimoto’s disease tends to occur in more women than men.

Don’t ignore symptoms of thyroid disease

If you have noticed odd, seemingly random changes in your health, ask your primary care physician to test your thyroid function. Thyroid disease is yet another reason not to ignore the onset or worsening of any problems like hearing loss, tinnitus, or loss of balance. Even if a thyroid condition can only be managed and not cured, seeking treatment for the symptoms can vastly improve your quality of life.

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