Although hearing loss is an inevitable part of the aging process, make sure you maintain your hearing health as long as possible by having your ears checked during your annual physical. The health of your ears may hold clues to your overall health, too.
Not all hearing loss is created equal. Sensorineural hearing loss, which commonly occurs as part of the aging process, is caused by loss of hair cells in the inner ear and is permanent. Conductive hearing loss, however, can often be treated and normal hearing restored. By examining the ear canal, your physician can detect causes of conductive hearing loss -- such as excessive ear wax, fluid accumulation or infection due to a cold or sinus infection, a perforated eardrum or benign tumor – and recommend a course of action to correct the problem.
Problems with your hearing may also signal other serious medical conditions. If you’ve recently begun hearing ringing in your ears, also known as tinnitus, it may be an indication of high blood pressure. Tinnitus is a medical condition which is typically related to damage in the inner ear; however, it is sometimes caused by elevated blood pressure.
Speaking of which ... having an annual physical is especially important to your hearing health if you have other health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and obesity, as these can cause hearing loss. Heart disease and obesity affects your circulation, while diabetes affects the nerves and blood vessels in your body. Your ears, especially the organs in your inner ear, rely on good circulation and blood flow. By managing these diseases, you also protect your hearing health.
If your physician detects a hearing problem during your annual exam, be sure to address it as soon as possible. Research shows individuals wait an average of seven years before seeking treatment for their hearing loss. Untreated hearing loss can damage the brain’s ability to interpret sound, decreasing the amount of success you’ll have with hearing aids once you decide to purchase them. A 2011 study by John Hopkins and the National Institute on Aging indicates you may also be more at risk for developing dementia.
Additionally, untreated hearing loss can lead to a host of other emotional and physical problems which adversely affect your quality of life, such as depression, anxiety, anger, fatigue, stress, social isolation, reduced alertness and increased risk to personal safety, impaired memory and the ability to learn new tasks.
So, although your eyes are the windows to your soul, your ears and their health can be a gateway to your overall health and well being. The healthier they are, the better you’ll feel.