The Connection Between Hearing and Overall Health

Last update on Sep, 04, 2019

When you think about hearing loss, do you also think about diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, oral health issues, smoking, prescription drugs, social isolation, dementia, depression, injury-causing falls and accidents? 

You should, because all of these health-related issues are connected, in one way or another, to hearing. Some health conditions or health-related decisions increase the risk of hearing loss, while others may be caused, at least in part, by hearing loss, especially when left untreated.

This blog post is intended to reinforce the link between hearing loss and many other aspects of health — including costly medical conditions. We also want to drive home the message that your members can increase their potential for optimal health by promptly getting help for a hearing problem.

Health conditions that are risk factors for hearing loss

Numerous studies have found that several health conditions and health-related decisions increase the risk of hearing loss. Most of the health conditions in this group share a common biological mechanism: Directly or indirectly, they damage tiny blood vessels of the inner ear, diminishing the ability to hear.

Diabetes

Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who don't have the disease, according to the American Diabetes Association. Also, of the 84 million adults in the U.S. who have prediabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30% higher than in those with normal blood glucose.

High blood pressure (hypertension)

A U.S. study of 274 men and women ages 45 to 64 found a strong relationship between high blood pressure and age-related hearing loss.

Cardiovascular disease

Six decades of study revealed that impaired cardiovascular health (heart disease) negatively affects hearing ability, especially in older adults.

Stroke

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss may foreshadow a cerebrovascular event (stroke) as much as two years before it happens, according to research conducted in Taiwan.

Obesity

Severe obesity was associated with an increased prevalence of hearing loss, according to a study conducted in South Korea. Also, a U.S. study found that obese adolescents may be at a higher risk for hearing loss than their normal-weight peers.

Oral health issues

Certain oral conditions, including periodontal (gum) disease, may result in hearing loss, according to a study conducted in Taiwan.

Other risk factors for hearing loss

Ototoxic drugs

More than 200 prescription and over-the-counter drugs are “ototoxic,” meaning they can damage hearing, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

Smoking

A Japanese study found that smokers were up to 70% more likely than nonsmokers to develop hearing loss. Researchers also found that the risk of hearing loss dropped significantly within five year of quitting.

Individuals who have any of these risk factors should get their hearing tested annually. Conversely, those who’ve been diagnosed with hearing loss may want to see their physician about a screening for diabetes, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease.

Hearing loss is a risk factor for certain health conditions

When hearing loss is diagnosed or suspected, encourage your members or employees to seek help as soon as possible. Most cases of hearing loss can be helped with hearing aids, and the sooner individuals take action, the less likely they are to experience the following health conditions:

Social isolation

A survey of 2,300 adults age 50 and older found that people with untreated hearing loss were less likely to participate in organized social activities, compared to those who wear hearing aids.

Dementia

Hearing loss may be a risk factor in up to 36% of dementia cases, according to a prominent researcherAnother study determined that even subtle hearing loss in younger men and women can affect brain function, increasing the risk of dementia later in life.

Depression

Researchers found that older adults with some form of hearing loss are 47% more likely than their normal-hearing peers to experience symptoms of depression. Another study uncovered a strong association between hearing loss and depression among adults of all ages.

Injury-causing falls

A study of 2,107 individuals ages 40 to 69 found that a 25-decibel hearing loss (classified as mild) was associated with a three-fold higher risk of falling, compared to someone with normal hearing. Every additional 10 decibels of hearing loss increased the chances of falling by 1.4 fold.

Accidents

The risk of accident and injury increases with hearing loss, according to researchers, ranging from 60% higher for people who reported “a little trouble” hearing to 90% higher for those who said they had “a lot of trouble” hearing.

Spread the word to your members

Hearing health and overall health share many, sometimes surprising, connections. For some people, addressing certain common health conditions may help prevent hearing loss. For others, getting treatment for hearing loss may help them avoid serious, often costly health conditions.

We encourage you to spread the word about these risk factors. Also, consider the vital role of a hearing benefit in making high-quality hearing care more accessible to your members.

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