How Sickle Cell Affects Hearing and Balance

At the annual Charles F Whitten Memorial Lecture Friday morning October 12th, 2018, Dr. Dawn Nelson took the stage as the keynote speaker to address a packed crowd about the prevalence of dizziness, falling and hearing loss in people living with sickle cell anemia.

While there have been many discussions and resources provided detailing pain symptoms associated with sickle cell anemia, dizziness, hearing loss and falling are topics that have been overlooked within the sickle cell discussion. Bone and muscle pain are common when a patient experiences a sickle cell crisis because blood vessels in these tissues are very small, leading to an increase in the disruption of regular blood flow due to the sickle shape of red blood cells.

The cochlear-vestibular system, or your hearing and balance system located in the inner ear, are no different. This network of neural tissues, bones, and fluids is smaller than the size of a golf ball but has a disproportionately high blood supply for its size.

There is an intricate and vast network of small arteries that are responsible for providing oxygenated blood to the inner ear and because of the diameter of these vessels, premature red blood cells with