Does bulimia cause hearing loss?

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Most people are familiar with the digestive system complications bulimia nervosa (BN) and other eating disorders can cause, such as tooth decay, acid reflux, and constipation. But what about auditory problems? This article explores what might cause bulimia hearing loss.

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In this article

Can bulimia hearing loss occur?

In short, yes, bulimia nervosa can lead to hearing loss. Bulimia nervosa is an eating disorder that is associated with eating large amounts of food, followed by self-induced purging by vomiting, exercising excessively, or using laxatives or diuretics. Bulimia can cause serious damage to many parts of the body, including the ears and auditory system. 

In fact, no body system is spared from the adverse problems that occur in both anorexia nervosa (AN) and bulimia nervosa (BN), especially as these become more severe and chronic. (1) These adverse side effects are experienced not only in the auditory system, but also in other bodily systems, like the digestive system. The effects bulimia nervosa has on the body, and brain are expansive when left untreated. 

How does bulimia affect your ears and auditory system?

We know that bulimia can affect every system in the body, but what is the specific connection between bulimia and hearing loss? There are two possible causes:

1. Nutrient deficiencies

Many of the physical and psychological effects of bulimia are caused by partial starvation and the chaotic nutritional cycle. That’s why correcting nutritional deficiencies and abnormal eating patterns is a critical focus early in the treatment process. (2) 

2. Electrolyte imbalances

Magnesium is an electrolyte in the body and nutrient in some foods that can protect against damage to cilia and blood vessels in the cochlea, which are key parts of the auditory system. When the body doesn’t get enough magnesium from food eaten to prevent damage to these parts that loud noises can cause, this can result in hearing loss. (3)

Is hearing loss from bulimia reversible? 

Eating disorders are very serious, complex mental health disorders that can cause a broad range of medical problems to all systems in the body. But with the right treatment, most damage done to the body is reversible, including hearing loss. Especially if signs and symptoms are caught early. That’s why it’s critical to seek help as soon as possible. If you suspect you or someone you love may have bulimia or another eating disorder, don’t delay reaching out for help.

Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Resources

  1. Westmoreland, P., Krantz, M.J., Mehler, P.S. (2016, January). Medical complications of anorexia nervosa and bulimia. The American Journal of Medicine;129(1):30-7. 
  2. Salvy, S.J., McCargar, L. (2022, December). Nutritional interventions for individuals with bulimia nervosa. Eating and Weight Disorders;7(4):258-67. https://doi.org/10.1007/BF03324971 
  3. Scheibe F, Haupt H, Mazurek B, Konig O. (2001). Therapeutic effect of magnesium on noise-induced hearing loss. Noise Health;3(11):79-84. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12689450/ 
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020, April 30). Eating disorder damages are extensive, but reversible. National Institutes of Health. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from https://nihrecord.nih.gov/2020/05/01/eating-disorder-damages-are-extensive-reversible

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