Hearing loss is a medical condition that affects people of all ages. Hearing loss is the third most prevalent chronic condition in older Americans behind hypertension and arthritis. Hearing loss can be caused by a number of factors including: age-related changes, noise, genetics, medications, lifestyle choices, and medical conditions. Understanding what places you at risk for hearing loss can help you prevent some causes of hearing loss.

Dementia

Diabetes

Dizziness

Heart Health

High Blood Pressure

Smoking

Ototoxicity

Hearing Loss & Dementia

A number of studies have come to light over the last few years showing a link between hearing loss and dementia. Specifically, a pair of studies out of Johns Hopkins found that hearing loss is associated with accelerated cognitive decline in older adults and that seniors with hearing loss are significantly more likely to develop dementia over time than those who retain their hearing.

A third Johns Hopkins study revealed a link between hearing loss and accelerated brain tissue loss. The researchers found that for older adults with hearing loss, brain tissue loss happens faster than it does for those with normal hearing.

How Hearing Loss Affects Cognitive Function

Our ears and auditory system bring sound to the brain. But we actually “hear” with our brain, not with our ears. According to Wingfield, unaddressed hearing loss not only affects the listener’s ability to perceive sound accurately, it also affects higher-level cognitive function. Specifically, it interferes with the listener’s ability to accurately process the auditory information and make sense of it.

Hearing Loss & Diabetes

It has been found that hearing loss is twice as common in individuals with diabetes as compared to those without. Research has also shown that adults with pre-diabetes have up to a 30% higher rate of developing hearing loss than those without elevated blood glucose levels. Some feel that this is due to poor circulation. When there is an elevation in blood sugar levels this can reduce blood flow and therefore causing damage to blood vessels in certain areas of the body including the blood vessels in the inner ear which can cause high frequency hearing loss.

Dizziness

A sudden sensation of dizziness can be alarming. Rest assured that in most cases this in not a sign of a serious health condition. You are not alone. Dizziness impacts 20-30% of the population at some time in their lives. The sources of your dizziness depends on your symptoms.

Common Inner Ear Causes of Dizziness and Vertigo

  • Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo (BPPV): this results when the crystals in the vestibule shift into the wrong location. Episodes usually occur when the head is moved a certain way (turning in bed, bending over, or looking up). The vertigo lasts for a minute and then subsides. It can go away on its own, but there are treatments available.
  • Infection or inflammation: sometimes the semicircular canals swell and send incorrect balance signals. This can cause episodes of vertigo that last for hours or days.
  • Meniere’s Disease: is a condition in which there is an abundance of fluid in the inner ear that causes increased pressure and swelling. It can affect the hearing and balance systems.

These are just some of the reasons that vertigo and dizziness happen. It is important to work with your physician to determine the cause of your dizziness.

Heart Health

Just as the eyes are the “windows to the soul”, the ears may very well provide a sneak peek at the condition of a person’s heart. While the ears tell nothing of the emotional state of a person, they may indeed help provide early detection for cardiovascular disease.

Research suggests a link between heart health and hearing loss. It’s a fact that the complex inner ear is extremely sensitive to changes in blood flow, and so potential problems with the cardiovascular system may be detected by the ear before other areas of the body. Damaged blood vessels can compromise blood flow in many parts of the body, but when it comes to the ear, the result can cause permanent hearing loss. Other parts of the body have a “back up” blood supply; whereas the delicate inner ear does not, and this leaves it vulnerable to damage from reduced blood flow.

The test results from a hearing exam may actually prompt a need for cardiovascular assessment. The shape of a person’s hearing loss is the tell-tale sign. A typical hearing loss from aging or hereditary factors usually takes the form of better hearing in the lower frequencies, which slopes to worse hearing in the higher frequencies. However, a pattern of low frequency hearing loss that slopes reversely to better hearing in the higher frequencies may be an indicator to refer for assessment of cardiovascular health.

There are many reasons to keep an eye on hearing as we age, including the link between hearing loss and dementia, and now the link between heart health provides yet another reason to be proactive. Individuals age 40 and over are recommended to have an annual hearing exam as part of their routine medical exam, especially those who have a history of heart disease.

Physical activity is key to many aspects of our health, and the good news is that a person may actually decrease their risk of hearing loss by increasing physical activity. The American Heart Association recommends an active lifestyle, healthy diet, and maintaining healthy blood pressure for good heart health. So, one factor in keeping your hearing strong may truly be as simple as keeping your pulse strong.

Talk to your primary care physician today about scheduling a hearing evaluation with Professional Hearing Services.

High Blood Pressure

There has been a significant link shown between high blood pressure and hearing loss. Your blood vessels become damaged when your blood pressure is high. If the blood vessels in your ears become damaged, it can cause the hearing to be impaired. 

Smoking

Smokers have been shown to have a 70% higher risk of having hearing loss than non-smokers. Research has also shown that non-smokers who are living with a smoker and exposed frequently are twice as likely to develop hearing loss. The longer the individual smokes or is exposed to smoke, the greater the damage to their hearing health. There are chemicals (nicotine) in cigarettes that are known to deplete oxygen levels and constrict blood vessels in areas throughout the body, one area being the inner ear, which is responsible for maintaining hair cell health. 

Ototoxicity

What is Ototoxicity?

Ototoxicity is a side effect caused by certain medications, such as antibiotics, chemotherapy medications, and aspirin. These medications are known to cause damage to the cochlea or auditory nerve and possibly the balance system, therefore resulting in hearing loss, dizziness, and/or tinnitus. On occasion hearing and balance problems that were caused by these medications can be reversed once the medication has been stopped. However, sometimes the damage is permanent.

What Medications are known to be Ototoxic?

There are a number of medications and chemicals that are known to be ototoxic. It is always important to discuss the possibility of hearing and balance damage as a side effect of the medications with your physician.

Ototoxic medications that have been known to cause permanent hearing loss is a series of widely used IV aminoglycosides antibiotics, such as Gentamycin, Streptomycin, and Neomycin. These antibiotics are known to be used in treating severe bacterial infections and are restricted to use only for life-threatening infections. Another type of ototoxic medication is cancer chemotherapy drugs, such as cisplatin and carboplatin.

Some medications that are known to cause temporary damage to the hearing and balance system are aspirin, a pain reliever, quinine, which is used to treat malaria, and loop diuretics, which are used to treat different heart and kidney conditions.

What are the side effects from ototoxic medications?

Most of the time the first sign of ototoxicity is tinnitus, ringing in the ears. Over time hearing loss may develop. At times hearing loss can go unnoticed until it becomes significant enough to affect your ability to understand speech both in background noise and in conversation.

These medications may also contribute to balance problems causing you to feel unsteady on your feet or feeling a loss of balance. These signs can at times be temporary if your body is able to adapt to this feeling and compensate for it.

What should be done to monitor the side effects of ototoxic medications?

Your hearing should be monitored before and during treatments if being treated with ototoxic medications. A baseline hearing evaluation should be completed by an audiologist prior to starting treatment and should be monitored throughout the course of the treatment. This will help your physician make decisions on whether or not treatment should be stopped or changed. If the treatment cannot be adjusted the audiologist will be able to help you manage the side effects that may occur and allow you to report any changes in your hearing, tinnitus, or balance that you may notice throughout treatment.