Comorbidity refers to the simultaneous presence of two chronic diseases, or the presence of one or more additional disorders occurring simultaneously with a primary disorder. As with other physical, medical conditions, hearing loss may occur with other comorbidities.
As the third most common medical condition in the US, after heart disease and arthritis, hearing loss may occur with one or more comorbidities, depending on a person’s medical history and lifestyle. Though hearing loss is invisible, its effects may visibly permeate through different areas of a person’s life, if left untreated. Here, we explore the various comorbidities linked with hearing loss.
Hearing Loss & the Increased Risk for Dementia
Dementia and brain function are two of the most closely studied conditions in relation to untreated hearing loss. A large body of research has linked the potential risk for dementia with untreated hearing loss. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have found that untreated hearing loss adds a significant burden to the brain’s cognitive load, which increases the risk for dementia.
One study from 2011 followed 639 subjects over a span of 12 to 18 years, monitoring the both their hearing ability and cognitive abilities. At the outset, researchers gave participants hearing and cognitive tests, and continued to track their relationship through the course of the study. They found that participants with poorer hearing abilities that were left untreated had an increased risk of developing dementia.
Hearing happens in the brain, so with untreated hearing loss, the brain must work harder if it is struggling to hear. This increases the brain’s cognitive load as it struggles to fill in the gaps. Over time, untreated hearing loss could lead to the deterioration of neural pathways that are not used to transmit sound signals.
Fortunately, there is a way to support your cognitive abilities. The use of hearing aids has been found to significantly improve the wearer’s cognitive function. Another 2011 study from Japan found that in treating hearing loss early on with the prescription of hearing aids, subjects showed improvement in their cognitive ability.
Hearing Loss & the Cardiovascular System
Heart disease is the most common medical condition in the United States. Coincidentally, there is a link between heart disease and hearing loss: your auditory system requires a fresh supply of oxygenated blood to function properly. In particular, the inner ear environment is a sophisticated system of hair cells, fed by adequate blood flow. Limited blood flow in this process may have adverse effects on your hearing.
People with cardiovascular conditions may experience changes in their hearing. In a related matter, smoking could also affect your hearing abilities. Smoking increases your blood pressure, which leads to the constriction of the small veins in your head and neck area, which may affect the hearing process.
Diabetes is related to hearing loss as well, with a connection through the cardiovascular system. For diabetics, insulin production in the pancreas is irregular (either too much or too little), which then affects blood glucose levels. This increases the risk for strokes and heart attacks, and may also affect your circulatory system’s function, which could in turn affect your hearing abilities.
Hearing Loss & the Increased Risk of Falls and Accidents
Our vestibular system, which is responsible for balance, is located within the auditory system. Liquids in the ear maintain a sense of balance and relationship to gravity, registering our spatial awareness in the brain. With hearing loss, our balance and spatial reasoning may be adversely affected. Researchers have found links between hearing loss, and an increased risk for falls and other accidents. In fact, researchers at Johns Hopkins have quantified this risk. In a 2012 study, they found that “for every 10 decibels of hearing loss, the risk of falling increases by 1.4-fold.” Treating your hearing loss with the use of hearing aids keeps you more connected to the world around you.
Hearing Loss & Cancer Treatments
A number of drugs are “ototoxic,” which means they are poisonous to the ear. These include antibiotics and pain killers, and also, drugs used in cancer treatment. While these medications are often treating serious medical conditions, losing your hearing is one possible side-effect. Cisplatin, a common anticancer drug used in chemotherapy, has 69% ototoxicity, at a dose less than 200 milligrams. Ototoxic medication could damage your inner ear hair cells, which do not regenerate, and could cause permanent sensorineural hearing loss. If you notice changes in your hearing during cancer treatment – or any other medical treatment – notify your physician.
Hearing Loss & Mental Health Issues
People with untreated hearing loss are at higher risk for developing depression, stress, and anxiety due to difficulties in communication. As a result, people tend to withdraw from their friends and family, isolating themselves socially. Over time, this social isolation could be taxing on one’s emotional health. Coincidentally, social isolation is a big factor in dementia.
Ear to Hear Online
There’s no reason to live with untreated hearing loss. If you experience a hearing loss and have yet to seek treatment, take the first step and contact us at Ear to Hear Online. We provide comprehensive hearing tests and hearing aid fittings.