by Fran Springer
We tend to associate hearing loss with aging or something caused by genetic predisposition. However, health issues can also lead to hearing loss.
- Chronic Kidney Disease. Also known as chronic renal disease is a gradual loss of kidney function as a people age. An Australian survey found that chronic kidney disease was associated with a 43 percent increased risk of hearing loss. The reason may be that less efficient kidney function allows the accumulation of toxins which that can damage nerves, including hearing nerves.
- Cardiovascular Disease. This includes conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels, including high blood pressure and atherosclerosis, in which plaque buildup in arteries dramatically reduces circulation. The cochlea is extremely sensitive to blood flow and susceptible to cardiovascular abnormalities. Reduced blood flow to the inner ear limits its supply of nutrients and oxygen resulting in hearing loss.
- Cognitive Decline and Dementia. Dementia is a decline in cognitive function that is serious enough to interfere with daily life. A study in Neuroimage revealed that hearing loss was associated with accelerated brain atrophy and shrinkage, especially in the area used for short-term memory. Hearing loss results in reduced brain stimulation, leading to a decline in thinking skills. Hearing loss can lead to greater social isolation
- Diabetes. This is a metabolic disease in which the body is unable to produce enough insulin, a hormone needed to convert sugars and carbohydrates into energy for the body. The resultant high blood sugar damages nerves and blood vessels throughout the body and may well damage the inner ear, causing hearing loss. Researchers found hearing loss was twice as common among people who had diabetes compared to those who did not.
- Depression. This is a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest in daily activities. Researchers at the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders reported that hearing loss was associated with depression, particularly in older women with moderate hearing loss. Emotions and depression are modulated in the same part of the brain and are linked.
- Falls. A research letter in JAMA Internal Medicine examined data from older adults and found that, for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss, the risk of falling increased by one and a half times. A 25 dB hearing loss, defined as mild, was associated with a nearly threefold increase in the risk of falls. People who can’t hear well may not be fully aware of their environment, making falls more likely. Hearing loss is also cognitively demanding and removes resources for other demanding tasks, such as maintaining gait and balance.
Hearing loss may be an “early warning sign” for metabolic and vascular disease. If you have noticed any irregularities with your hearing, schedule your hearing test appointment and follow up with your family doctor for an assessment of your overall health.