Autophony and Eating Disorders: Why Severe Weight Loss Has Hearing Impairment Implications

Monday, November 9, 2015

Severe weight loss can affect not only fat mass in those places we can see, but also regions in which fat tissue is critical to bodily functions -- such as hearing.

Autophony refers to the sensation of hearing your own voice or other self-generated sounds in your ear louder than projected. Imagine speaking in what you think is a normal voice, only to hear it boom as if you’ve turned up the volume.

The ear’s Eustachian tube – also known as the auditory tube -- is typically closed and opens in an effort to equalize pressure in the ear as well as to transmit sound to the middle ear. In individuals who do not suffer from severe weight loss, a fat pat surrounds the tube and ensures that it is sealed and closed. In patients with anorexia however, the body is so severely starved and malnourished that it loses fat mass everywhere -- including the pad that surrounds the Eustachian tube. This means In effect, your body is so starved that even your ears are losing tissue!

The loss of this fatty tissue keeps the auditory tube constantly open, and thus resulting in conduction that is impaired. This results in sounds then vibrate directly onto the ear drum, and our team sees patients typically complaining of a constant, irritating whooshing or echoing sound in the ear. This sensation is very similar to congestion with a head cold or and ear infection.

These very bothersome symptoms can be alleviated by leaning your head forward between your knees. Symptoms will completely resolve by restoring the fat pad with proper nutrition and weight restoration, provided in the excellent care that our patients receive at ACUTE Center for Eating Disorders.