Our auditory system is integral to how different parts of the body communicate with one another. So when hearing is damaged, it can signify health issues elsewhere in the body, explains Dr. Hollie Bahen at Hearing Care of Summerville. “That is one major reason hearing loss should never be dismissed,” she adds.
Hearing loss is rampant, though rarely discussed, particularly among adults over 50. Research suggests one of every six American adults – 44 million people by 2020 – suffers from hearing loss.
Common causes of hearing loss include:
• Age: The accumulation of damage over time results in permanent “sensorineural” hearing loss. It results from wear and tear on structures in the cochlea, which are responsible for sending sound signals to the brain. It tends to affect higher pitched sounds most, making spoken word difficult to understand.
• Inner ear damage: Did you “rock and roll all night and party every day?” You may be paying for it now. Loud noises have a cumulative effect on hearing as they cause the same havoc as described above.
• Earwax buildup: A gradual accumulation of earwax serves as a physical impediment to hearing. The good news is that it can be cleared with simple treatment.
• Infection and tumors: Hearing impairment found in children often involves ear infections, rogue bone growth or a tumor in the outer or middle ear.
• Ruptured eardrum: The eardrum transmits sounds physically to the nerves in the auditory center of the brain. Loud, sudden noises, rapid changes in pressure, infection and trauma into the ear can all cause an eardrum to rupture.
• Diabetes: A study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that diabetics were twice as likely to suffer hearing loss. Left untreated, diabetes can constrict blood flow to the cochlea, the auditory portion of the inner ear.
• Stress: Stress affects all our body systems, including blood flow to the inner ear. Two habits designed to relieve stress – smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol – cause the same symptoms.
While damage to other bodily functions can affect hearing, the reverse is also true. Research at Johns Hopkins University found that hearing loss can lead to atrophy in the brain and affect regions responsible for processing sound, speech, memory and balance.
Hearing loss is linked to other issues as well:
• Dementia: The same Johns Hopkins study found people with hearing loss were significantly more likely to develop dementia. The social isolation associated with not comprehending auditory conversation is thought to reduce social engagement and speed the onset of this disease.
• Heart disease: Hearing loss may signal poor blood flow from cardiovascular disease. Because the inner ear is so sensitive, it can reflect subtle changes in blood flow that less sensitive body systems might not.
• Loss of balance: Your inner ear governs both your hearing and sense of balance, so damage to the internal structures can also affect both. Additionally, hearing provides subtle cues to our bodies when we stand and move. Losing those cues can affect balance, particularly for older people whose balance might be affected by musculoskeletal issues.
• Depression: Many studies have connected the social isolation caused by hearing loss with depression and its many debilitating symptoms – inability to focus, fatigue, profound sadness, inability to enjoy favorite activities, hopelessness and suicidal thoughts.
That is why it is so very critical that anyone who suspects they may have even mild hearing loss consult an audiologist, like Dr. Hollie Bahen and the team at Hearing Care of Summerville.
The experts at Hearing Care of Summerville are dedicated to helping patients connect with the world around them through improved hearing. They offer a full range of diagnostic and preventive hearing services, including hearing aid screenings, evaluations, hearing aids and rehabilitation.
To learn more, visit online at LifeIsWorthHearing.com, call (843) 871-9669 or stop by the office at 107A W. 5th North Street, Summerville, SC.