Chronic health problems and hearing loss are both significant concerns for many Americans. While some people think a hearing loss is a minor condition that can be ignored or untreated, it often coexists with other serious health issues. Studies show that people with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and dementia all have an increased risk of hearing loss. It is important to address your hearing loss and be vigilant in protecting your overall health.
Studies show that a healthy cardiovascular system has a positive effect on hearing. On the flip side, an unhealthy cardiovascular system can cause inadequate blood flow or trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear, contributing to hearing loss. According to a study conducted by David R. Friedland, MD, PhD, patients with a low-frequency hearing loss should be regarded as at-risk for cardiovascular events, and should be referred for follow-up evaluations with their primary healthcare provider.
Although medications are widely used to mange a variety of health concerns, there may be an unwanted side effect. Hearing loss, both temporary and permanent, can be linked to medications, particularly cancer treatments. Chemotherapy can damage the inner ear and auditory nerve, causing a permanent hearing loss. Radiation can cause inflammation of the ear and cause issues with fluid build-up. This can cause a conductive hearing loss. In addition to cancer treatments, certain antibiotics and diuretics also have the potential to cause or increase hearing loss.
The ongoing Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging has allowed researchers to draw important conclusions between hearing loss and cognitive decline. According to Frank Lin, M.D., Ph. D, hearing loss may play a much more important role in our brain health than previously thought. Lin and his colleagues determined that participants that began the study with a hearing impairment had accelerated rates of brain tissue loss, in comparison to those with normal levels of hearing. Those with a hearing impairment also showed significantly more shrinkage. Dr. Lin suggests that if you have a hearing loss, it makes sense to get it treated as soon as possible. He states that, “If hearing loss is potentially contributing to these differences we’re seeing on MRI, you want to treat it before these brain structural changes take place.”
Diabetes is well known for the neuropathy in the hands and feet. There are also documented associations between hearing loss and diabetes. Research shows that patients with uncontrolled type 1 or type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to have a hearing loss. This association emerges as early as age 30, according to researchers from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Researchers note that one way diabetes affects hearing is due to a breakdown of nerves in the ears when blood sugar rises. Studies show that when diabetes is well-controlled, the risk of associated hearing loss decreases substantially.
Although it can be challenging to manage these chronic health conditions, it must be made a priority. By partnering closely with your physician and hearing healthcare provider, you can be sure you are managing your health concerns to best protect your valuable hearing.