Risk factors for hearing loss that may surprise you
Some risk factors for hearing loss are understandable—think old age, excessive noise exposure, or traumatic brain injury—but other risks aren’t always so obvious. Here are seven unexpected risk factors for hearing loss that may surprise you:
Several studies published in the last few years have strongly linked sleep apnea to hearing loss. Medical professionals aren’t entirely sure why those with sleep apnea are more prone to hearing loss, but they believe it’s because the condition reduces blood supply to the inner ear, an intricate system which depends on oxygen to properly process sound. It's also possible that years of loud snoring could damage hearing.
People who regularly drink above recommended amounts have more to worry about than developing chronic diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Heavy drinking damages the central auditory cortex, increasing the amount of time it takes your brain to process sound, studies show. Excessive drinking among young adults also can lead to problems processing lower frequency sound. Even one overindulgent night can create balance problems: That’s because alcohol is absorbed into the fluid of the inner ear, which monitors balance, even after it is no longer present in the blood and brain.
After analyzing the medical records of more than 305,000 adults, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered a relationship between iron-deficient anemia (IDA) and hearing loss. People with IDA were twice as likely to have hearing loss than those without the blood disorder. Although the researchers stopped short of saying iron deficiency causes hearing loss, they did acknowledge the mineral’s critical role in providing a healthy blood supply to the delicate hair cells of the inner ear, which are responsible for processing sound.
This common childhood disease is known for causing painful swelling of the salivary glands on both sides of the face but in extreme cases, it can also cause encephalitis, meningitis and hearing loss. How does it affect your hearing? Medical professionals suspect the highly contagious viral disease damages the cochlea, the snail-shaped structure in your ear that house stereocilia and the stria vascularis. Although research shows only 1-4% of those infected with the mumps experience hearing loss, the exact rate is unknown. Medical professionals advise immunizing children against the disease beginning at 12-15 months of age.
Almost everyone experiences short bouts of intense stress at some point in their life, but sufferers of chronic acute stress are at high risk of developing additional health problems. In the case of hearing, it’s most likely a circulation problem. During periods of acute stress, the body diverts oxygen to its muscles so you can react more quickly if necessary. Most of the time, the body returns to normal when the danger has passed; however, in cases of acute stress, the body doesn’t receive that message. That means other parts of the body, such as the hearing mechanisms of the inner ear, can be damaged from lack of proper oxygen and blood circulation.
While the jury is still out on vaping as an alternative to cigarette smoking, one thing remains true about nicotine—it isn’t good for your hearing health. Nicotine is an addictive chemical which restricts blood flow to all parts of your body, including your inner ear where delicate stereocilia which interprets and transmits sound from your outer ear to your brain are located. Even e-cigarettes without nicotine might be hazardous to your hearing health. The mixture of flavorings, colorings and other additives which give the e-cigarette its flavor contain a substance called propylene glycol, an alcohol-based solvent that has proven to be harmful to ears when used topically.
If you’re enjoying a renewed quality of life courtesy of a “little blue pill” make sure you’re monitoring your hearing health closely, too. Men who take Viagra and other PDE-5 inhibitors are twice as likely to have hearing loss and may experience sudden hearing loss in one or both ears. Viagra is only one of many medications considered ototoxic, or harmful to your hearing health. Your best bet before taking any medication is to ask your physician to explain all potential side effects, including those which may affect your hearing.
Schedule a hearing evaluation
Although these causes of hearing loss aren’t as common as others, it’s always a good idea to monitor your hearing health closely. It all begins with finding a hearing care professional, scheduling a hearing evaluation and treating any diagnosed hearing loss sooner rather than later. To find a hearing healthcare professional in your community, search our directory of clinics.