A new study has found significantly higher prevalence rates of dizziness/imbalance, falls, and hearing loss in patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) than among the general population in the United States.

The study, published in the American Journal of Audiology, reported that numbness of the feet was related to falling and interrupted blood flow to vestibular and auditory arteries likely contributed to hearing loss and dizziness.

“The likelihood of balance disorders and increased falls in persons living with SCD is expected, given the shared vasculature of the vestibular and auditory systems within the labyrinth, reported loss of blood supply to the labyrinth during sickle cell crises, and the vulnerability of cochlea structures to hypoxia,” the authors wrote.

The research team conducted a cross-sectional survey of 135 adults with SCD who were identified by membership in an SCD association in the United States. The questionnaire was developed by 2 hematologists and delivered online and via traditional mail.

Read more about SCD comorbidities

The results revealed notably higher levels of dizziness/imbalance, falls, and hearing loss in patients with SCD than in individuals without SCD. Of the respondents, 70% reported dizziness and imbalance, compared to 15% of the general adult population in the United States. The authors noted that most of the respondents reported these problems before 35 years of age, which could suggest injury to the vestibular and auditory labyrinth at younger ages than was previously thought.

One of the most concerning results was the fact that most of the respondents did not seek medical help for dizziness/imbalance, which might suggest that patients are unaware of the connection between SCD and these symptoms.

The authors recommend a blend of patient and provider education to improve the rate of identification and treatment of these symptoms in patients with SCD, as well as to improve quality of life, treat balance dysfunction and hearing loss, and reduce falls and their complications in this population.

Reference

Nelson MD, Bennett DM, Lehman ME, Okonji AI. Dizziness, falls, and hearing loss in adults living with sickle cell disease. Am J Audiol. Published online October 13, 2022. doi:10.1044/2022_AJA-22-00059