SIGNS AND CONSEQUENCES OF HEARING LOSS

Hearing loss can happen to anyone. It does not discriminate because of age, gender, demographic background or ethnicity. In addition to the noticeable signs of hearing loss, including asking for repetition or saying “What?” there are some warning signs that are not as obvious.  One of the most challenging aspects of hearing loss is the gradual progression in which it appears for some patients. Research shows it takes more than seven years from the time a patient notices they have to....

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AUDIOLOGIST VS. HEARING INSTRUMENT SPECIALISTS

With the addition of hearing aids to chain stores, there are more places than ever to purchase such devices. Making it even more complicated, there are also different levels of hearing health care professionals capable of working with individuals who have hearing loss, including audiologists and hearing instrument specialists. Understanding the key differences between these professionals will allow patients to make more educated decisions regarding their hearing health.

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HEARING AIDS VS. OVER-THE-COUNTER DEVICES

One of the most common questions I get after recommending hearing aid technology to a patient is: Why are they so expensive? This question not only stems from pricing advertised by local hearing healthcare providers, but also over-the-counter (OTC) devices that can be purchased for a fraction of the cost.

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MEDICAL CAUSES OF HEARING LOSS

Many patients are shocked to learn their overall health can impact their hearing. The human body is incredibly complex and if it is not functioning properly, it can negatively impact an individual’s hearing ability. Hearing loss is associated with a number of different health problems ranging from hypertension to heart conditions. Our mission in providing this information is to not scare you. Working with your primary care physician or another certified healthcare professional can be beneficial, especially when discussing medical causes for hearing loss.


High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can increase the risk of permanent, sensorineural hearing loss because of issues within the blood vessels. When an individual has high blood pressure, it means blood is being pushed through the arteries much faster than desired. This can damage the lining of the artery walls. The damage isn’t centered in one area of the body, which is where your ears come into play. When blood vessels in the ears are affected, the damage is focused on the hair cells within the hearing organ and auditory system. The hair cells lose their ability to function as they were designed to, which means sound is not transferred to the brain in the best way. For individuals with hypertension, control is crucial.


Diabetes

Many studies have shown a correlation between diabetes and

hearing loss. Researchers looked at individuals with diabetes between 50 and 69 years of age and found 70 percent of them had high-frequency hearing loss. Additionally, Kathleen Bainbridge, Ph.D., in an article published in Annals of Internal Medicine, says individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss as those who don’t have diabetes. Individuals who were pre- diabetic had a 30-percent higher rate of hearing loss than those who do not have diabetes.


Similar to high blood pressure, diabetes could be affecting the blood flow to the auditory system, thus damaging hair cells. Another theory says diabetes could be causing nerve damage, which affects sounds’ ability to travel to the brain to be processed. It is very important for individuals with diabetes to maintain good blood glucose control to decrease the risk of hearing loss.


Heart Health

The American Heart Association has estimated 60 percent to 70 percent of Americans, including children between ages 2 and 19 years, are overweight or obese. The American Journal of Medicine conducted a two-year Harvard Nurses’ Health Study in 2013 and found excess weight increased one’s chances of

hearing loss. One in every six individuals involved in the study had hearing loss. Overall, those considered overweight were 17 percent to 22 percent more likely to have hearing loss than those with a normal body mass index. Maintaining a healthy diet and partaking in regular exercise is key to preventing cardiovascular disease and the hearing loss it can cause.


High Cholesterol

More than 15 million Americans now take medication to control cholesterol levels. The Journal of Nutrition conducted a study with over 2,400 participants and found those with the highest levels of cholesterol had a 33-percent higher chance of having severe hearing loss. Individuals who reported using medication to control cholesterol were less likely to have hearing loss. Work closely with your doctor to control high cholesterol as much as possible – you may be preventing possible hearing loss at the same time.


Kidney Disease

In utero, the kidneys and ears develop at the same time. Because of this, the tissues in the kidney and inner ear are very similar and share the same metabolic function. So problems that affect kidney function can also damage the inner ear. The American Journal of Kidney Diseases indicated individuals who suffer from moderate chronic kidney disease may require audiologic evaluations and treatment for hearing loss. Research found approximately 54 percent of individuals with chronic kidney disease had some degree of hearing loss. Be on the safe side and have your hearing tested to monitor potential changes throughout your life.


Smoking

For 40 years, we have known there is a correlation between smoking and hearing loss. This information has really come to light in the past 15 years and there is evidence smoking affects every aspect of the auditory system. “Cigarette Smoking and Hearing Loss: The Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study,” published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, assessed the correlation between smoking and hearing loss. Results indicated smokers are almost twice as likely as nonsmokers to develop hearing loss. Additionally, those exposed to secondhand smoke were more likely to have hearing loss than those who had never been exposed. Smoking often leads to respiratory infections that can affect the middle ear and potentially lead to middle-ear infections. Too many ear infections can damage the ear drum, which can cause hearing loss. The moral of the story is: It might be time to consider dropping this habit.


Ototoxicity

Ototoxicity means medications that “poison” the auditory system and damage the ear. Unfortunately, several medications on the market can damage the hearing organ, causing hearing loss, tinnitus and/or balance issues. How many of these medications are available? Over 200. These include aspirin, loop diuretics, aminoglycoside antibiotics, environmental chemicals and cancer-fighting agents. First and foremost, before taking any of these medications, have a baseline hearing evaluation. This will allow the audiologist to have baseline information on record to properly monitor ototoxic exposure. Future hearing evaluations can then be compared to the baseline and provide very useful information to both the audiologist and prescribing physician.


Dementia

I have always said if an individual cannot hear what’s being said, how are they going to remember it? Now there is research to prove this is true. In 2015, the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society published “Self-Reported Hearing Loss, Hearing Aids and Cognitive Decline in Elderly Adults: A 25-Year Study.” Researchers found using hearing aids helped reduce the risk of cognitive decline in adults with hearing loss. Two groups were assessed: those 65 years of age or older with hearing aids and those 65 years of age or older without hearing aids. Both groups were compared to a control group. Those without hearing aids had significantly lower scores and a greater decline in cognitive function than those with hearing aids, therefore suggesting a strong correlation between untreated hearing loss and the rate of cognitive decline.


Conclusion

In The Ear is a Window to the Heart: A Modest Argument for a Closer Integration of Medical Disciplines, Charles Bishop, Au.D., wrote, “There is simply too much evidence that hearing loss is related to cardiovascular disease and other health concerns. It’s time we maximized the information we have to benefit the individual’s overall well-being.” If you or anyone you know falls into one of these categories, please schedule an audiologic evaluation with an audiologist as soon as possible.      

DR TIFFANY BREWER

Dr. Tiffany Brewer completed her Doctor of Audiology (Au.D.) at the University of Louisville’s School of Medicine and her undergraduate degree in Speech Pathology and Audiology at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She is licensed by the state of Kentucky as an Audiologist and Hearing Instrument Specialist.

more articles by Dr Tiffany Brewer