How Thyroid Disease Can Impact Your Hearing (And Cause Tinnitus)

Thyroid gland

Did you know that there is a link between thyroid disease and hearing loss? In fact, as many as 1 out of every 4 people with thyroid disease will experience some degree of hearing loss. If you have recently been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, you may want to get a hearing test—especially if you are experiencing any symptoms like hearing loss or tinnitus. 

Abnormal thyroid levels have been associated with ringing in the ears. And since tinnitus is so closely tied to hearing loss, it’s important to have a hearing test to rule out any hearing loss. Here’s how thyroid disorders, tinnitus, and hearing loss are all related.

How The Thyroid Gland Works (And What Happens When It Doesn’t)

The thyroid is one of the most important hormonal glands. It releases a constant stream of hormones that help to regulate your heart rate, temperature, metabolism, growth, and many other body functions. 

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But if the thyroid releases too many hormones—or too few—it can disrupt those functions and cause problems. For example, low thyroid hormone levels can cause fatigue and exhaustion, while high levels might cause a rapid heartbeat or trigger anxiety.

Who Is At Risk For Thyroid Disease?

Thyroid diseases are very common—about 20 million people in the United States have some type of thyroid disorder. They are much more likely to affect women than men—the chances of developing a thyroid disease are 5 to 8 times higher in females. 

Older woman smiling

Women over the age of 50 have a higher risk due to the hormonal changes of menopause. Besides gender, the other major risk factor is a family history of thyroid disease. Autoimmune disorders like Type 1 diabetes can also increase the risk of developing thyroid disease.

Types Of Thyroid Diseases

There are two main types of thyroid disorders: low hormone production and high hormone production. Most people with thyroid disease have either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism from an underactive or overactive thyroid gland, respectively. 

Certain autoimmune diseases like Hashimoto’s Disease or Graves’ Disease can also affect the thyroid gland, although these conditions are much more rare. Growths, like goiters, or thyroid cancer can interfere with thyroid function, as well.

The two main types of thyroid diseases are:

  • Hypothyroidism – An under active thyroid gland that does not produce enough hormones.
  • Hyperthyroidism – An overactive thyroid gland that releases too many hormones.

Autoimmune diseases that affect the thyroid include:

  • Hashimoto’s Disease – The immune system attacks thyroid producing cells thereby preventing the thyroid from making enough hormones, as with hypothyroidism.
  • Graves’ Disease – The immune system makes the thyroid gland over-productive, much like hyperthyroidism.

Diagnosing Thyroid Disease

Most thyroid diseases can be diagnosed through blood tests. Your doctor will take blood samples to send to the lab for analysis. 

There are several blood tests that can help detect thyroid dysfunctions:

  • TSH tests measure the amount of thyroid-stimulating hormone to help doctors diagnose the most common thyroid disorders. High levels of TSH indicate hypothyroidism, while low levels of TSH indicate hyperthyroidism.
  • T4 tests measure the amount of thyroid hormone T4 (thyroxine) to check for abnormally high or low levels.
  • TPO tests measure the amount of thyroid antibodies in your blood to help diagnose autoimmune disorders like Hashimoto’s or Graves’ Disease.

However, some thyroid diseases cannot always be detected with blood tests. Growths, like goiters and cancers, might not affect the levels of thyroid hormones in your blood. If there is a mass or swelling in your throat, your doctor might recommend a biopsy or ultrasound to test for thyroid cancer.

Treatment For Thyroid Disease

Person with thyroid disease taking pills out of a weekly pill container

In most cases, thyroid disorders can be treated with daily medication. Hormone replacement pills like L-thyroxine can stabilize hormone levels for people with hypothyroidism. To treat hyperthyroidism, doctors prescribe anti-thyroid medications that regulate hormone production.

Surgeries to treat thyroid cancer have very high success rates, but in some cases, the entire thyroid gland may have to be removed. Without a thyroid gland, daily medications will be necessary to simulate thyroid functions.

The Connection Between Thyroid Disease And Hearing Loss

The link between thyroid disorders and hearing loss was established as far back as 1907 and has been well-documented ever since. Although more research is still needed to determine the exact relationship between the thyroid and the auditory system, studies show that changes in thyroid hormone levels can cause hearing loss. 

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism have been linked to hearing loss, along with Hashimoto’s Disease and Graves’ Disease. Hearing loss can happen on its own, or it can be accompanied by other symptoms like tinnitus or vertigo.

Types Of Hearing Loss Caused By Thyroid Disease

Studies have shown that thyroid disorders can cause both sensorineural and conductive hearing loss, as well as a combination of the two. Thyroxine is needed in the development of the auditory system and the function of the inner ear.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs because of damage to the inner ear or the auditory nerve. It may happen gradually or suddenly.
  • Conductive hearing loss happens when sounds are blocked from entering the inner ear. For example, too much wax in your ear canals or fluid behind your eardrum can impair your hearing.

How Different Types Of Thyroid Diseases Affect Hearing:

  • Hypothyroidism has long been associated with sensorineural hearing loss. In fact, hearing loss affects about 25% of people with acquired hypothyroidism. It has also been linked to sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL).
  • Hyperthyroidism has been linked to SSNHL as well as auditory conditions, like tinnitus.
  • Inflammation from Hashimoto’s Disease can damage the inner ear and impair hearing. 
  • Graves’ Disease causes hyperthyroidism, and can cause sudden hearing loss or tinnitus.

Thyroid Disorders And Ringing In The Ears

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, is often a symptom of hearing loss. In fact, 90% of people with tinnitus also lose some of their hearing ability. Just like thyroid disease can cause hearing loss, it can also cause tinnitus.

Ringing in the ears and other tinnitus symptoms often precede the gradual hearing loss caused by hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Disease. Hyperthyroidism itself can actually be a risk factor for developing tinnitus. 

Many common medications can cause tinnitus as a side effect, as well, including some of the antithyroid drugs that are used to treat Graves’ Disease and hyperthyroidism. If you have ringing in your ears and are also taking propylthiouracil (PTU), you could be experiencing tinnitus because of your medication.

Tinnitus Treatment For People With Thyroid Disorders

If you have an undiagnosed thyroid condition, your tinnitus will probably start to diminish after you begin treatment. Taking daily thyroid medications will restore your hormonal balance, improve your hearing, and relieve thyroid-related tinnitus symptoms. 

In fact, a 2017 study found that thyroid replacement therapy was able to improve hearing in 50% of the patients studied, and to completely reverse hearing loss in 15% of them. If you still suffer from tinnitus, there is treatment available that can minimize your symptoms or relieve them altogether. Tinnitus retraining therapy has proven effective for 80% of the people who try it. 

Tinnitus can’t be cured with surgery or medication, but a holistic, therapeutic approach can significantly reduce your symptoms. You don’t have to let tinnitus disrupt your concentration or affect your hearing—our world-class experts can help you find lasting relief. 

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