Treating Hearing Health for Better Overall Health

~ By Nadine Dehgan ~

Ignoring or not treating a hearing loss may seriously harm one’s overall health. Treating hearing loss can decrease the risk of acquiring other serious medical conditions.

Cardiovascular Disease: Heart health and hearing health are linked, both positively and negatively. A healthier cardiovascular system results in improved auditory systems, according to the American Journal of Audiology. Conversely, poor heart health causes inadequate blood flow and blood vessel trauma to the inner ear.

Dementia: The more severe the hearing loss, the greater the risk for a cognitive disorder and a sharper decline in mental function, possibly due to “cognitive load” as the brain struggles to make sense of misheard sounds. A study in The Lancet by identified nine lifestyle risk factors for dementia: “Midlife hearing loss” was the strongest, more than smoking or physical inactivity.

Depression: A meta-analysis of 31 studies in Aging Research Reviews reported hearing loss is among the most common chronic conditions associated with depression in older adults. However, research in the Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics showed hearing aids significantly improved emotional and cognitive conditions in older patients, alleviating feelings of isolation and depression.

Diabetes: The National Institutes of Health states hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with type II diabetes, which accounts for 95 percent of U.S. diabetes cases. Diabetes may lead to hearing loss by damaging the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear.

Falls: An Archives of Internal Medicine report showed people with even mild hearing loss were nearly three times more likely to have fallen compared with those with no hearing loss. The worse the hearing loss, the stronger the fall risk, potentially because cognitive load detracts from brain functions that oversee balance and gait.

Additionally, hearing loss is also linked to other medical conditions and drugs. It is important to be aware of your hearing if you take certain drugs or have certain conditions that increase the risk of hearing loss.

Anemia: People with anemia are twice as likely to have hearing loss. According to Peter Steyger, Ph.D., a scientific adviser to Hearing Health Foundation, “Iron is clearly required for normal functioning of the auditory system, as for many other organs, and too little can result in anemia,” a deficiency of red blood cells or hemoglobin.

Cancer and Ototoxic Medications: Certain cancer-fighting chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin, may permanently harm hearing. In addition, aminoglycoside antibiotics to treat serious infections can be ototoxic (harmful to hearing), and phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors, such as Viagra, that treat erectile dysfunction have been linked to sudden hearing loss.

Nadine Dehgan is the CEO of Hearing Health Foundation (HHF), the largest nonprofit funder of hearing and balance research in the U.S. Learn more about HHF’s mission to prevent, cure, and treat hearing loss and educate about hearing health at hhf.org.

A version of this article originally appeared in the December 2017 Issue of The American Legion.