I have never considered myself hard of hearing but, I do struggle to pick out a conversation in a crowded room or in a busy pub or restaurant. What is more surprising is that I have never thought of hearing loss in terms of MS symptoms. This is, probably, because hearing loss caused by Multiple Sclerosis is a very unusual symptom.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disease of the brain and spinal cord where your immune system attacks the myelin coating that surrounds and protects your nerves. Nerve damage causes many symptoms such as difficulty walking, bowel and bladder problems and cognitive impairment.
Hearing loss is a big problem in the UK today. At least 1 person out of 7 has some degree of hearing loss and 1 out of 5 people over the age of 75 has a hearing loss. Women are twice as likely to have hearing difficulty with men as they age and it is also true that as people get older they are more likely to be susceptible to other conditions such as tinnitus (ringing in the ears) or vertigo.
MS Hearing Loss
Very few people have reported a hearing loss as being the main symptom of their multiple sclerosis. There have been only a few studies in auditory problems and MS. So, any statistics may not be accurate or properly representative.
One source suggests that 6% of people with MS have impaired hearing. In another, smaller, study 11 of 253 people were found to have hearing problems.
Impairment of auditory perception can have many causes. However, in MS, this impairment can be associated with damage to the hearing nerve pathways in the brain and the brainstem. Aural dysfunction may also take place during an acute exacerbation.
Sudden hearing problems can show that you are having a relapse. Treatment with steroids may speed up the recovery of hearing difficulties. Hearing problems may also be linked to sensitivity to heat. If this is the case, your hearing may get worse when your body temperature rises and then return to normal when you cool down.
- In very rare cases, hearing loss has been reported as the first symptom of the disease.
- Deafness due to MS is exceedingly rare, and most acute episodes of the hearing deficit caused by MS tend to be short-lived.. Although not a common MS symptom, the incidence of hearing loss called sensorineural hearing loss in the MS population far exceeds that in the normal population.
Hearing loss is the loss of 30 decibels or more of hearing. This problem isn’t common for people with MS, but it can happen. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, about 6 per cent of people with MS have hearing problems.
Audible Signal Nerve Pathways
Your inner ear converts sound vibrations on the eardrum into electrical signals, which are carried to the brain via the auditory nerve. Your brain then decodes these signals into the sounds you recognize.
A signal loss could be a sign of MS. Lesions can form on the auditory nerve. This disturbs the nerve pathways that help your brain transmit and understand sound. Lesions may also form on the brain stem, which is the part of the brain involved in hearing and balance.
Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL)
SNHL makes soft sounds hard to hear and loud sounds unclear. It’s the most common type of permanent hearing deficit. Damage to the nerve pathways between your inner ear and your brain can cause SNHL.
This type of hearing loss is much more common in people with MS than other forms of hearing loss.
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Tinnitus is a common hearing problem. It sounds like a ringing, buzzing, whistling, or hissing in your ears.
Usually, ageing or exposure to loud noises causes tinnitus. However, in MS, nerve damage disrupts the electrical signals that travel from your ears to your brain. That sets off a ringing sound in your ears.
Tinnitus isn’t dangerous but can be very distracting and annoying. There currently is no cure. You should see a doctor if you’ve lost hearing or you hear ringing or buzzing sounds in your ears. Your doctor can evaluate you for causes of hearing deficits, such as:
- an ear infection
- ear wax buildup
- ear damage from exposure to loud noises
- age-related hearing loss
- an injury to your ear or brain
- a new MS lesion
Also, see the neurologist who treats your MS. An MRI scan can show whether MS has damaged your auditory nerve or brain stem. Your doctor can prescribe steroid drugs when you have an MS relapse to improve hearing loss if it is in the early stages.