Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects the central nervous system and can result in a wide range of symptoms throughout the body. In some cases, MS may cause hearing problems or other issues relating to the function of the ears.
MS is a chronic condition affecting the central nervous system. Evidence suggests that it is an autoimmune disorder, meaning the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissue. In the case of MS, the immune system attacks the protective linings of the nerves, called myelin. The results can disrupt how the brain sends signals to the body.
The course of MS is unpredictable and can cause a variety of symptoms in different people. It may cause hearing problems and other symptoms that have to do with the function of the inner ear, such as hearing loss, tinnitus, balance problems, and a muffled or full feeling in the ear.
Can MS cause hearing problems? MS is not completely predictable. The course of the disease can vary greatly from one person to the next and can lead to a wide range of symptoms in different people. MS affecting different areas of the CNS may result in specific symptoms in each case.
Hearing problems are an uncommon but possible complication of MS, occurring in roughly 6% of people with MS. They may result from damage to the hearing nerve pathways present in the brain and brainstem.
Hearing difficulties may occur as part of an exacerbation of the condition. This refers to when old symptoms get worse or new ones to develop. Hearing problems can be a short-term symptom in some cases, but some people may experience longer-lasting changes to their hearing.
MS and sensorineural hearing loss. Sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) is a type of hearing loss that can occur after damage to the nerve pathways of the inner ear. While hearing loss is not a common symptom of MS, evidence notes that SNHL in the MS population far exceeds that in the general population.
It can make softer sounds hard to hear and may cause louder sounds to be unclear or sound muffled. This may make it difficult for a person to understand words against background noises.
SNHL may follow a progressive or fluctuating pattern in people with MS. A 2018 systematic review notes that it is more common in the early stages of the disease and may come on suddenly. But it may also occur progressively as the disease itself progresses.
MS and sudden hearing loss. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is a rapid impairment of hearing. A person may lose a noticeable amount of hearing all at once or over a few days. Medically, this includes a loss of 30 decibels or more of hearing capabilities. For comparison, this would make whispers very hard to hear, or inaudible, and make normal conversations sound about the same as whispers.
This type of hearing loss does not often have an identifiable cause, but typically occurs due to an underlying condition that damages the nerves or sensory organs of the inner ear.
A 2016 study notes that sudden hearing loss is rare in MS, occurring in 3% of cases at most. Sudden hearing loss may appear both in the early stages of the disease or in later stages as the disease progresses. In some rare cases, it may be the first symptom a person experiences.
MS and hearing loss in one ear. Research suggests that sudden hearing loss in MS is commonly unilateral, meaning it occurs in one ear rather than both.
A 2021 review adds that sudden hearing loss in one ear is also the most common presenting symptom involving the ear in MS. But in some cases it may occur in both ears.
Hearing loss may also begin in one ear and then later affect the other ear.
MS and tinnitus. Tinnitus is a relatively common symptom with a number of potential causes. Aging ears, exposure to loud noise.
Evidence suggests that tinnitus occurs in about 1% of MS cases. Tinnitus due to MS may occur due to damage of the nerves controlling the ear.
Treatments. If sudden hearing symptoms occur in someone with known MS, a doctor may prescribe and administer corticosteroids. The National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders in the U.S. notes that a doctor may administer steroids as soon as possible and may suggest them before test results return confirming a diagnosis.
Quickly administering corticosteroids may be effective at controlling damage and increasing the likelihood of recovering hearing. Delaying treatment will likely decrease the effectiveness of treatments.
From Medical News Today