The First Symptoms of the Condition That Left Ashton Kutcher Struggling to Hear

"Something’s not right," the actor recalls his wife, Mila Kunis, saying.

While walking the red carpet for the premiere of his latest movie, Your Place or Mine, Ashton Kutcher says he had a little trouble figuring out who was saying what. "I can't hear very well. I'm hard of hearing in one ear and I can only hear in the other," he recently revealed on the Chicks in the Office podcast.

Kutcher's trouble hearing is a consequence of his battle with vasculitis, an autoimmune disorder that affects the blood vessels and can do lasting damage to the organs. "I woke up one day and was having vision issues, could hardly see," he explained on the first episode of The Check Up with Dr. David Agus. "Knocked out my hearing, which threw off my equilibrium, my balance, and I couldn't walk."

Best Life talked to a doctor to find out what, exactly, vasculitis does to your body, and what its earliest symptoms are. Read on to find out what to watch for—and who's most at risk.

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Kutcher's first vasculitis symptom was a bad headache.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 27: (L-R) Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis attend the 94th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood and Highland on March 27, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
David Livingston / Stringer / Getty Images

"Vasculitis happens when the blood vessels of a person become inflamed and damaged, and this results in decreased blood flow and organ damage," Ryan Peterson, MD, the medical director at NuView Treatment Center, explains. "What's concerning about this disease is that it can affect any type of blood vessel in the human body, be it the smallest capillary or the largest artery, which is the aorta."

In Kutcher's case, the first symptom of vasculitis was a severe headache, he said in an interview with Esquire. After two weeks of unremitting pain, his wife, actor Mila Kunis, said, "something's not right," and urged him to go to the doctor.

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The symptoms of vasculitis aren't always specific—which can make it difficult to diagnose.

Friendly Female Doctor Visits Smiling Recovering Man who is Lying in Bed, She Fills Medical Chart with Patient's Data.
Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock

Kutcher told Esquire that it took a while for doctors to reach a diagnosis—which Peterson says is not unusual. "The challenge with vasculitis is that the symptoms can be non-specific or non-pathognomonic, meaning the symptoms are not exactly tell-tale signs that a person has vasculitis," he tells Best Life.

And what sort of symptoms could indicate a case of vasculitis? "The early signs of vasculitis are flu-like symptoms like tiredness and fever," says Peterson. "Other symptoms may include joint pains, skin rashes, and swollen limbs."

Certain factors can put you at greater risk of vasculitis.

The female senior adult patient listens as the mid adult female doctor reviews the test results on the clipboard.
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"Persons who have compromised immune systems and people with certain autoimmune disorders such as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS) have higher chances of developing vasculitis," says Peterson. "Having a family history of vasculitis is also a considerable risk factor too."

Peterson notes that several other factors can increase a person's risk of developing vasculitis as well, including smoking, certain infections and medications, and drug use.

"Common treatments of vasculitis include corticosteroids, immunosuppressant drugs, and anti-inflammatory medications so that the body won't further attack the normal non-disease blood vessels," he explains. "In severe cases, surgery may even be necessary to repair the damaged blood vessels to prevent further complications."

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Kutcher was reluctant to go public with his health struggles. 

Ashton Kutcher at the Academy of Country Music Awards 2018
Kathy Hutchins / Shutterstock.com

In the Esquire interview, Kutcher explained that after recuperating from his bout with vasculitis, he didn't plan on talking about his health struggles. But when news of his diagnosis got out—after a conversation on the adventure series on which he co-starred, Running Wild with Bear Grylls: The Challenge, was aired against his wishes—he made peace with it.

"At the end of the day, I have to look at it and be like, 'All right, well, maybe it needed to come out.' Maybe somebody will see this and go, 'Oh this is helpful for me in some way knowing this,' he told Esquire.

Elizabeth Laura Nelson
Elizabeth Laura Nelson is the Deputy Health Editor at Best Life. A mom and a marathon runner, she’s passionate about all aspects of health and wellness. Read more
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