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Hearing Loss & Associated Medical Conditions

The connections between hearing loss and other conditions

Many medical conditions have what is called co-morbidities, it simply means that they are associated or connected to each other. Hearing loss is no different and a host of recent studies have found connections to a diverse list of conditions. Here is a list of some of the conditions that seem to be associated with hearing loss.

Sleep Apnea

New research presented in 2014 found that people with sleep apnea may have a greater risk of hearing loss. The question is why, why would an airway disfunction cause or be associated with hearing loss? There are two potential reasons for this link, sleep apnea causes problems for the cardio vascular system, this may have a knock on effect on the vascular supply to the cochlea (inner ear). If the inner ear is not getting a good oxygen rich blood supply it causes damage. The second potential reason is noise induced damage of the cochlea, the snoring is so loud that it actually causes noise induced hearing loss.

Smoking

We all know smoking is bad for you and the list of ailments that may result from smoking could fill quite a large book. However, it seems we may be able to add hearing loss to that list. A recent study found that smokers were 15.1% more likely to develop hearing loss than people who didn't smoke. If you don't smoke but your partner does, you can't escape. 

The study found that passive smokers were 28% more likely to develop hearing loss than non-smokersThe researchers were unable to determine the exact reasons why smoking and passive smoking increase the risk of hearing loss. The speculation is that it could be due to toxins in tobacco smoke or smoking-related cardiovascular disease. Again, anything that reduces oxygen rich blood flow to the nerves of the inner ear is going to cause damage.

Diabetes

A recent US study found that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those without the disease. What was also interesting was that the study found that in people with prediabetes (higher glucose levels but not yet diagnosed with Diabetes), the rate of hearing loss is 30% higher than in those with normal blood glucose. 

The reasons for how diabetes is related to hearing loss are unknown. However, the increase in prevalence of hearing loss seems to be tied to higher blood glucose levels. It is possible that the high blood glucose levels cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear, similar in manner to the way diabetes can damage the eyes and the kidneys.

Dementia & Alzheimer’s

According to a 2013 John Hopkins University Study, hearing loss may increase the risk of cognitive problems and dementia. The studies monitored the cognitive health of 639 people who had no cognitive issues when the study began. The researchers followed the subjects for about 12 years, but some were followed for up to eighteen years, they tested the volunteers’ mental abilities regularly during this period.

The results were interesting to say the least, the worse the initial hearing loss, the more likely the person was to develop dementia. Researchers say that there are plausible reasons for why hearing loss might lead to dementia — the brain’s hearing centers are very close to the regions where Alzheimer’s first starts. However, we need to be clear here, the study only showed a connection, it did not show that hearing loss was a definitive cause of dementia.

Brain Shrinkage

Although the brain becomes smaller with age, the shrinkage seems to be accelerated in older adults with hearing loss, according to the results of a study by researchers from Johns Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging. The report revealed that those with impaired hearing lost more than an additional cubic centimeter of brain tissue each year compared with those with normal hearing.

Those with impaired hearing also had significantly more shrinkage in particular regions, including the superior, middle and inferior temporal gyri, brain structures responsible for processing sound and speech. The study also gives some urgency to treating hearing loss rather than ignoring it, saying it should be treated before these brain structural changes take place.

Heart Disease

Hey, it's cardiovascular issues again, in a study published in The Laryngoscope, researchers found that hearing test patterns correlate strongly with cerebrovascular and peripheral arterial disease. In fact the correlation was so strong that they felt it may represent a screening test for those at risk. The authors of a study published in the American Journal of Audiology concluded that impaired cardiovascular health negatively affects both the peripheral and central auditory system. Again, this is probably a case of restricted blood flow causing issues in the nerve centres.

Obesity

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) recently published study results showing that a higher body mass index (BMI) and larger waist circumference are each associated with higher risk of hearing loss in women. The researchers found that when compared with women with BMI of less than 25, the risk for hearing loss was 17% higher for women with a BMI of 30 to 34, 22% higher for women with a BMI of 35 to 39, and 25% higher for women with a BMI of 40+. The possible causes of the increase in prevalence seem to be general health and cardiovascular issues again

Depression

This is something that we have been aware of for some time in Audiology. Hearing-impaired adults are more likely to be depressed than those with excellent hearing. Higher rates of depression were most common in middle-aged women. More than 11% of people with some hearing problems scored as having moderate to severe depression, compared to 6% of people with good or excellent hearing. What we have found is that the difficulties hearing cause self isolation which in turn leads to depression. 

We are social animals and when we withdraw from our social structure we don't do well. Generally, when the hearing loss is treated and people can re-join their social activities the feelings of depressin lift. 

As you can see, there is a litany of medical conditions associated with hearing loss. In most cases though the underlying issue is cardiovascular in nature. To protect your hearing you need good diet, exercise and general health. Having that will also protect you from a lot of the other medical conditions. 

If you have any questions or would like to know more about hearing aids in Glasgow, call us on 0141 954 6030 or book an appointment online now!

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