Having a hearing loss is one thing. But did you know that there are different health-related effects of untreated hearing loss that go beyond the ear?
If you delay treatment of hearing loss
, the hearing loss could impact your physical and mental health – and your social wellbeing. But if you get help at an early stage, you can reduce the chances of these consequential conditions ever occurring.
Hearing loss and reduced brain function
The ear picks up and transmits the sounds around us. But it’s the brain that processes the signals and gives them meaning.
When you have hearing loss, the brain receives fewer sounds and “forgets” what to do with the sound. In recent years, researchers have found that when hearing loss occurs, the areas of the brain that have to do with the other senses will take over the areas of the brain that normally process hearing. This is called cross-modal cortical reorganization. Essentially the brain tries to compensate for losing the sense of hearing by rewiring its connections. And this has can have a serious effect on the brain’s cognition.
When the brain’s ability to process sound is reduced, it affects the ability to understand speech too. And even with mild hearing loss, the hearing areas of the brain become weaker. With weaker hearing areas, the areas that are necessary for higher-level thinking
will compensate for these areas. So they go in and take over for hearing instead of doing their primary job.
The good news is that you can do something about it. Research
has indicated that hearing aids may help to prevent or slow the deterioration of brain functions.
Hearing loss and Alzheimer’s disease
As mentioned, a consequence of untreated hearing loss can be reduced brain function. This may stimulate conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. At the University of Washington’s Department of Medicine
, a study
of 100 cases of Alzheimer’s patients found that 83% had a hearing loss.
Once these patients were fitted with hearing aids, 33% were classified with less severe dementia than Alzheimer’s. According to the Fischer Center for Alzheimer’s Research
, many of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s can be indirectly caused by hearing loss. But hearing aids can help to prevent or delay dementia, and, as the research above shows, they can reduce the impact of dementia.
Hearing loss and depression
In the U.S., The National Council on Aging
has carried out a large-scale study
on the consequences of untreated hearing loss. The study found that individuals with hearing loss who did not use hearing aids were almost twice as likely to experience depression as those who were treating their hearing loss. This is usually the result of social withdrawal and isolation because it’s so difficult to have a hearing loss.
The study supports that using hearing aids reduces the likelihood of depression, sadness, anxiety or paranoia. Adding to this, a study from 2017
suggests that depression from hearing loss could also be alleviated by the support and understanding of friends and family. So people with hearing loss can benefit from having a network of people that they feel comfortable discussing their issues with.
Hearing loss, falling and its consequences
With an untreated hearing loss, you also increase your risk of falling, simply because your awareness of your surroundings is decreased. Falls are responsible for a number of injuries like bone fractures or injuries to the brain, mainly for the 65+ population.
The other way around: diseases that can cause hearing loss
Now that you’re aware of the consequences of hearing loss, you may be wondering what diseases could cause hearing loss.
Type 2 diabetes is one
People with diabetes are more than twice as likely to get a hearing loss as people without diabetes. Diabetes causes sclerosis of arteries and thickening of the small blood vessels. This affects the blood flow to the inner ear. The decrease in oxygen flow can eventually result in a hearing loss. People with diabetes should make it a routine to get their hearing checked to nip diabetes-related hearing loss in the bud.
Cancer can also indirectly cause hearing loss
That’s because of chemotherapy. One of the more hidden side effects of chemotherapy is ototoxicity, or toxic damages to the inner ear – a condition that causes hearing loss. According to the University of Arizona Cancer Center
, “Hearing loss has become one of modern cancer therapy’s most prevalent side effects. In fact, hearing loss is among the most underreported, yet potentially devastating, side effects endured by many chemotherapy patients.”
Finally, a lesser-known fact about blood pressure:
When you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you may also be subject to a hearing loss.
from Grant Medical College
in Mumbai found that if your blood pressure is high, it can damage your blood vessels, including the ones in your ear. This leads to a build-up of fatty plaque, which affects your hearing. So it’s important to get treatment for high blood pressure before any damage to your hearing occurs.
Do you have any of these conditions?