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An Uncommon Side Effect of Iron-Deficiency Anemia

Iron is an important component of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all body cells. Not having enough iron stores can negatively affect health in many ways.


Iron deficiency anemia is the most common nutrient deficiency in the world, occurring most often in women during their child-bearing years. Because iron is essential in the production of hemoglobin, the red blood cell protein that carries oxygen, adequate intake – and prevention of excessive losses – is essential.

There are many symptoms of iron-deficiency anemia, but the one most often first thought of is fatigue. “This is one of the most common signs of iron deficiency because it means your body is having trouble carrying the oxygen to your cells so it’s affecting your energy levels,” says Beth Thayer MS RDN, director of the Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit MI.

Other symptoms of iron-deficiency may also include frequent infections (iron plays a key role in a healthy immune system), pale skin, swollen tongue, restless leg syndrome, hair loss, and pica (the intense craving to eat non-food items).
A less commonly understood side effect of iron deficiency may be hearing loss.

In a study published online by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, a team of researchers studied records for more than 300,000 adults aged 21 to 90. They found that there was an increased risk of hearing loss in those who were iron deficient.

"An association exists between IDA in adults and hearing loss. The next steps are to better understand this correlation and whether promptly diagnosing and treating IDA may positively affect the overall health status of adults with hearing loss," the authors write.

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Iron is a mineral that is naturally present in many foods, added to some food products, and available as a dietary supplement. The recommended daily intake for adults is 8 mg for men and 8-18 mg for women (depending upon menopausal status). The recommended amount increases during pregnancy to 27 mg/day.

The richest sources of heme iron in the diet include lean meat and seafood. Dietary sources of nonheme iron include nuts, beans, vegetables, and fortified grain products.

Journal Reference:
Kathleen M. Schieffer, Cynthia H. Chuang, James Connor, James A. Pawelczyk, Deepa L. Sekhar. Association of Iron Deficiency Anemia With Hearing Loss in US Adults. JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, 2016; DOI: 10.1001/jamaoto.2016.3631

Additional Resources:
Shersten Killip M.D., M.P.H., John M. Bennett M.D., M.P.H., and Mara D. Chambers M.D., University of Kentucky, Lexington, Kentucky. “Iron-Deficiency Anemia” Am Fam Physician. 2007 Mar 1;75(5):671-678.

National Institutes of Health, Office of Dietary Supplements

Photo Credit:
By OpenStax College - Anatomy & Physiology, Connexions Web site.