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Susan Allen asked:

>>> susan allen <susie@shoko.calarts.edu> 11:51:56 am Friday, 20 June 2003
>I'm not a specialist, but is it then possible that elevated blood
>pressure could contribute to deafness?

Indeed, blood pressure can affect hearing.

Although the effect is not normally a major one, in people suffering
Meniere's disease an increase in pressure can trigger a full-blown attack.
They tend to suffer low-tone fluctuating deafness, and significantly, the
pitch is perceived higher in the affected ear. Subjectively, most patients
report a feeling of "fullness" or pressure in their ears.

Menieres disease can sometimes be treated successfully by placing the
patient in a pressure chamber. Moreover, of particular interest, a recent
paper (Franz et al., Acta Otolaryngol. 123, 2003, 133-137) reports that
cutting the tendons of the middle ear muscles relieved symptoms in all 20
Menieres patients studied. In this context, it is possible to see a direct
link between action of the stapedius muscle on the stapes and intracochlear

Again suggesting a link between pressure and deafness, there are some
interesting cases of "sudden idiopathic deafness", an uncommon condition
which appears to be triggered by increases in blood pressure. Simmons (Arch.
Otolaryng, 88, 1968, 67-74) reported cases where the precipitating factor
was coughing, stooping to pick up a golf ball, getting out of bed,
performing a Valsalva manoeuvre, and after diving. The patient suddenly lost
80 dB or so of hearing sensitivity, which sometimes persisted for weeks (and
sometimes permanently). To assist recovery, Simmons recommends that such
patients avoid "nose blowing, swimming, sudden postural changes,
intercourse, and more than modest amounts of alcohol."

Hallberg's report on sudden deafness (Laryngoscope 66, 1956, 1237-1267) is
also of interest because in a surprisingly large number of cases the
deafness came on suddenly in both ears and was attributed to "vascular

More recently, Preyer (1996) studied the relationship between sudden
deafness and the weather (Laryngorhinootologie 75, 443-446) and found that
patients with complete recovery were characterised by the smallest changes
of atmospheric pressure and temperature.

Andrew Bell.

Andrew Bell
Research School of Biological Sciences
Institute of Advanced Studies
Australian National University
Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia
phone +61 2 6125 9634
fax +61 2 6125 3808