Related Conditions to Hearing Loss

How is hearing loss linked to other health conditions?

Hearing loss is connected to many other health conditions throughout the body. While hearing loss may not be the cause of these diseases or conditions, it is considered a risk factor for many.

Related diseases and risk factors

Meniere's disease

Meniere’s disease is a chronic inner ear disorder that causes recurring episodes of severe dizziness (vertigo), ear pressure, tinnitus, and hearing loss. It typically affects only one ear, although some people experience symptoms in both ears. 

Meniere’s disease is a complex, debilitating condition that can significantly impact a person’s way of life. Symptoms come on without warning, which can limit participation in social, leisure, and work activities. And because scientists have yet to pinpoint the exact cause of the disease, it’s difficult to predict or prevent.

The good news is that we have gained a much better understanding of Meniere’s disease in recent years. There’s no cure yet, but there are various treatments to help alleviate and manage symptoms.

Tinnitus

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ear, is the effect of inner ear damage or impairment. While most people experience moments or brief periods of hearing ringing in the ears during their lives (usually after extended exposure to a noisy environment or following a sudden, extremely loud sound), some people experience tinnitus more regularly.

Tinnitus is not a condition itself. Usually, it’s a symptom of another condition, which means it’s important first to identify the underlying cause. Some causes, such as excess earwax buildup, hypertension, stress, anemia, or overconsumption of caffeine or cigarettes, can be treated or eliminated relatively easily.

While there’s no cure for tinnitus, hearing aids are equipped to give you lasting treatment and relief. Tinnitus treatment options include Sound Therapy, which uses soothing audio to mask the tinnitus sound, and Notch Therapy, which teaches the brain over time to ignore the tinnitus sound.

Heart disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, representing one in four deaths every year.

The link between heart disease and hearing loss has been well established for years. Heart problems can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries and restrict blood flow, which may cause irreversible damage to the ear. For example, poor circulation can reduce oxygen, causing damage to the delicate nerves inside the cochlea. These nerves play an important role in translating noise from your ears to electrical impulses in your brain.  

An active lifestyle can play a big part in a healthy cardiovascular system, including regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet, and keeping blood pressure in a good range. In summary, improving cardiovascular health has been shown to reduce your risk of hearing loss.

Dementia

Recent studies have shown a connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline/dementia. Hearing loss can affect your brain in many ways, such as:

  • Cognitive load, also known as the amount of work for your brain to process sound. With hearing loss, your brain has to work harder to process the sounds that you hear.
  • Social isolation. Many people stop participating in group activities which leads to less brain stimulation.
  • Missing out on sounds. It seems obvious, but your ears send fewer signals to your brain when you don't hear many sounds with hearing loss. 

The good news is that treating hearing loss aggressively can actually help ward off cognitive decline and dementia.  Here are a couple of steps to get you started.

  • Evaluate your hearing and determine if you have hearing loss.  
  • Determine the best treatment options. For example, hearing aids are the most effective way to treat noise-induced or age-related hearing loss.

It’s important to note that just because someone is at an increased risk for dementia does not mean that person is certain to develop it.

Thyroid disease

The thyroid is a gland that sits below the Adam’s apple and is responsible for releasing hormones that control the metabolism. Hypothyroidism is a condition of low production of thyroid hormones, often caused by autoimmune disease.

Those who suffer from hypothyroidism may see an effect on their hearing health. In fact, nearly half of the people with low thyroid function have some degree of hearing loss. Without enough thyroid hormone to regulate metabolism, many of the body’s functions slow down. This impacts nearly every part of the body, including the heart, brain, and ears. It’s also common to experience tinnitus and/or vertigo if you suffer from hypothyroidism.

If you’ve been noticing systemic health issues that don’t seem to have an explanation, you may want to speak with your doctor about the possibility of thyroid disease. And as always, if your hearing seems to be getting worse, schedule some time with your hearing care professional to talk through treatment options and solutions. 

Sleep apnea

For those that experience sleep apnea, their breathing slows too much and even stops for short periods while they sleep. Breathing difficulties at night are obviously not a recipe for restful sleep or alertness the next day. But it turns out that sleep apnea is responsible for more than just sleep difficulties.

Hearing loss may be the most surprising health condition to be associated with sleep apnea. Some theories suggest that the inflammation and circulatory issues brought on by sleep apnea may lead to damage in the inner ear. At this point, the research doesn’t prove that sleep apnea causes hearing loss, only that it is associated with it. But there’s enough evidence to suggest that you should get your hearing checked if you do have sleep apnea.

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