Five unexpected links to hearing loss
Age. Exposure to loud noise. Earwax buildup. You might recognize those as some typical causes of hearing loss, but hearing loss can also occur in some unexpected ways. Here are five you might not suspect.
Diabetes and hearing loss
According to the American Diabetes Association, almost 30 million people had diabetes in 2012. And 86 million had pre-diabetes, in which blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough to be classified as diabetes. The problem is that diabetics are twice as likely to have hearing loss as those without diabetes, and among pre-diabetics the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than normal. While the causation has yet to be determined, blood glucose may be responsible Speculation is that higher levels of blood glucose cause damage to small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear, leading to hearing loss.
Diabetics or pre-diabetics should make sure to have annual hearing exams, exercise regularly, monitor blood glucose, maintain a healthy weight, and because they are at higher risk of hearing loss, make sure headphones are kept at a reasonable volume.
Antibiotics and hearing loss
Did you know that many common antibiotics can also cause hearing loss? While antibiotics are invaluable, life-saving medications, some of them are ototoxic; an ototoxic medication is one that, put simply, is toxic to the inner ear and can result in damage. Other side effects can include tinnitus, vertigo and dizziness.
Antibiotics have a long history of ototoxicity. In the 1940s, streptomycin was developed and used to successfully treat tuberculosis. Unfortunately, doctors noticed that some patients, though cured of tuberculosis, now had another problem to contend with: hearing loss. At the time, the damage to the cochlea and vestibular systems was irreversible. Ototoxicity was also seen in certain subsequently developed antibiotics including the class of antibiotics called aminoglycosides.
Fortunately the use of aminoglycosides in particular is restricted to life-threatening situations such as dangerous bacterial infections. The bad news, however, is that bacteria causes inflammation, and that inflammation causes the delicate structures of the inner ear to be vulnerable to the toxins present in the antibiotics. Other factors can increase risk for hearing loss from taking antibiotics as well; some of these include heredity, age, incorrect dosage or previous hearing damage.
Remember: It is important to ask your doctor about the risks before taking any antibiotic. And if you do experience hearing loss, tinnitus or vertigo, seeking treatment right away gives you the best chance to reverse the damage.
Obesity and hearing loss
What does weight have to do with hearing? A lot, it turns out. A study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston looked at more than 68,000 women; from 1989 to 2009, their physical activity, body mass index, waist circumference and hearing loss were monitored. The results of the study showed that the risk of hearing loss increased as BMI and waist circumference increased. Researchers are looking into the correlation, and think it might be because the extra weight puts a strain on the capillaries that are responsible for transporting oxygen to the cells. That includes the delicate hair cells that facilitate hearing; those cells don’t receive as much oxygen, so they begin to die.
Younger people aren’t immune from obesity-related hearing loss, either. A recent study found that teens who were at or above the 95th percentile for BMI had double the risk of low-frequency unilateral hearing loss, and overall demonstrated poorer hearing over all frequencies. Researchers suggest that the reason for hearing loss could be tied to inflammation, which is damaging to all of the organs of the body including the hearing system. But the good news is that young people especially might have a chance to turn hearing loss around with lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.
For older people, it’s about minimizing the risk. The research at Brigham and Women’s showed that even a moderate amount of exercise can decrease the risk of hearing loss; for example women who walked at least two hours a week lowered their hearing loss risk by 15 percent more than those who walked less than an hour a week.
Heart disease and hearing loss
The inner ear is more sensitive to changes in blood flow than other parts of the body. As such, there is an important connection between hearing and cardiovascular health, to the point where researchers think hearing loss could be an early indicator of heart disease. A healthy cardiovascular system means adequate blood flow to the inner ear, which leads to better hearing health. On the other hand, inadequate blood flow and trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss.
The Laryngoscope even published a study that showed a strong correlation between audiogram patterns and cerebrovascular and peripheral arterial disease, indicating that an audiogram could serve as a screening tool for those potentially at risk for a cardiovascular incident.
The link shows that monitoring your hearing health, along with adhering to a healthy diet and moderate exercise, could reduce your risk of developing what has become the number one cause of death in the United States.
Stress and hearing loss
It is well known that stress can lead to poor health, and now we know that hearing can be affected as well. As a matter of fact, the International Journal of Tinnitus published the results of a study that discovered a connection between stress and sudden hearing loss. It’s a vicious cycle; stress leads to physical problems like high blood pressure and heart disease, which affect blood flow to the inner ear. And the hearing loss itself then leads to even further stress.
Good sleep habits, a healthy diet and an exercise program can help to minimize stress, in addition to lowering blood pressure and improving the cardiovascular system.