Hearing loss is one of the most common chronic health conditions in the population today, and yet, few people understand the impact hearing loss can have on their overall health. One huge factor is that untreated hearing loss often exists alongside other chronic health issues, called “comorbidities”. Some comorbidities may arise directly from hearing loss, while others are more likely to be contributors to hearing impairment.
The possibility of comorbidities means it is important to look at a person’s larger health picture when treating hearing loss. Encouragingly, addressing hearing loss can have a positive effect on comorbidities as well, and treating hearing loss early can have a preventative effect on the development of comorbidities. Understanding the relationships between hearing loss and its comorbidities continues to develop and expand with scientific and medical research in the field.
Balance Issues and Falling
At first, the relationship between falling accidents and hearing loss may seem strange, but balance issues are one of the most distinct comorbidities of hearing loss. While the inner ear contains tiny canals that help us calibrate our balance, the link between hearing issues is based largely in the brain rather than the ear.
Hearing loss strains the brain’s capacity. When we can’t hear properly, our mind redirects its energy towards interpreting incoming sounds and speech. To better comprehend sound, our mind’s focus is taken away from other tasks, including balance and coordination. When our cognitive energy is diverted, it is far more likely we will misjudge obstacles in our path and spatial situations, resulting in more falling injuries.
Hearing loss is also linked to increased rates of diabetes. In this case, diabetes may be a contributing factor to the development of hearing loss. Diabetes affects circulation, most notably in the feet and legs, but throughout the body as well. Restriction and bad circulation in the blood vessels that nourish the inner ear have the potential to cause permanent hearing loss. The tiny sensory cells in the inner ear, called “hair cells”, are extremely susceptible to this damage.
Hair cells detect the subtle vibrations of sound waves entering the ear canal and send those signals to the brain. When a hair cell is damaged it has no way to regrow or regenerate itself so any injury to these cells is permanent damage to our hearing. When these hair cells don’t receive enough circulation, they can become starved, resulting in hearing loss.
Much like diabetes, cardiovascular disease is a comorbidity of hearing loss that contributes to hearing damage. Circulatory issues that go hand in hand with cardiovascular challenges can starve the delicate hair cells of the inner ear, affecting their functioning and even causing permanent harm that leads to hearing loss.
When you receive a hearing loss diagnosis, it is important to convey the information to your primary care provider. The onset of hearing loss can be an indication that there are other unaddressed health concerns to watch for such as cardiovascular disease or diabetes.
Isolation and Depression
Hearing loss can be responsible for serious comorbidities that greatly impact your quality of life. Most common among these are social isolation and depression which can develop together or separate of each other.
Hearing loss often causes behavior changes because it limits how a person communicates. A person with hearing loss may begin avoiding activities they once enjoyed like parties, concerts and sporting events because hearing loss makes them difficult to participate in. Hearing loss can make people nervous about going places they are unfamiliar with, limiting their mobility. This narrowing of social activity and communication can result in isolation.
There is no question that hearing loss makes communication harder. Feeling like you understand others and are understood by them is a key factor in maintaining mental health. When understanding erodes, depression can descend. People with untreated hearing loss have an elevated risk of experiencing depression.
Cognitive Issues and Dementia
A major comorbidity of hearing loss is dementia and compromised cognitive functioning. Chronic cognitive issues are thought to be worsened by the challenges of hearing loss. Much like our balance and coordination, our mental faculty is taxed when it has to negotiate hearing loss. The stress of hearing loss has been shown to exacerbate the symptoms of dementia and decrease cognitive performance.
Treating Hearing Loss at Hearing Health
Hearing loss and the comorbidities of hearing loss are serious health concerns. While most hearing loss is permanent, there is good news: treating hearing loss helps relieve and lessen many of its negative effects. Want to learn more about the best treatment for your hearing loss? Hearing Health in Portland can help you connect with answers – drop us a line today!