Think you might have hearing loss? It turns out procrastinating about that hearing test appointment may put more than just your hearing at risk. Primary care doctors now know hearing loss may be a symptom of another, more serious medical condition.
Over the past decade, studies have linked hearing loss to three concerning co-morbidities:
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Poor cardiovascular health causes inadequate blood flow throughout the body. “One of the first signs of a problem is blood vessel trauma to your inner ear resulting in damage to fragile hearing nerves,” says Dr. Patricia Ramirez, an audiologist and trainer at Siemens Hearing Instruments, Inc. “The outcome is hearing loss, particularly in the lower frequencies.”
A recent study showed a “significant association” between low-frequency hearing loss and the dangerous effects of cardiovascular disease, including strokes, coronary artery disease and heart attacks.
Because of this, you should immediately report it to your primary care doctor if you have a hearing test that indicates hearing loss – especially in the low. He or she may recommend a complete cardiovascular work-up.
Despite the results of multiple studies linking hearing loss to the onset of dementia, many people are unaware that untreated hearing loss poses a threat to cognitive health. But studies have shown the more profound the hearing loss, the greater the possibility of cognitive decline.
Why is hearing loss a likely factor in the development of dementia in some patients? Theories include:
* The same, as-yet-to-be discovered cause of dementia may also cause or contribute to hearing loss
* Straining to hear and understand exhausts your mind and inhibits its ability to function at peak performance
* People who cannot hear well, or have difficulty hearing in crowds, often avoid socializing. Isolation is an established contributor to mental decline.
Additional studies have associated hearing loss with more rapid brain shrinkage, particularly affecting areas of the brain responsible for processing speech, sound, memory, and sensory integration.
Early diagnosis and medical intervention can help slow the progression of dementia in some patients. Treatment with hearing aids not only helps improve your hearing – it might stave off or even slow down the development of dementia.
People with diabetes are two times more likely to suffer hearing loss than those without the condition. Diabetes actually encompasses a group of diseases associated with high blood glucose levels caused by an inability to produce or use insulin properly. Nearly 26 million Americans have a form of diabetes.
Research measuring the ability to hear at the low, mid and high-frequencies in both ears, found a link between diabetes and hearing loss at all frequencies, with a somewhat stronger association in the high-frequency range, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. It appears the damage is more common in patients with Type 2 diabetes, which represents approximately 95 percent of cases in the U.S. Another significant study tested 5,000-plus individuals and found more than 30 percent of those diagnosed with diabetes also experienced hearing loss, according to the NIDCD.
What you should do if you think you have hearing loss
No one wants to be told “you have hearing loss,” but ignoring an obvious problem will not make it go away. In fact, delaying treatment could make the problem worse and potentially endanger your overall health. Finding out you have hearing loss allows a hearing care professional to fit you with appropriate hearing aid amplification to help improve your hearing and provide you with test results that could alert your primary physician if you have serious health concerns.