5 Health Conditions Associated with Hearing Loss

“Comorbidities,” are defined as the simultaneous presence of two or more chronic diseases or conditions in a patient. Most people are familiar with comorbidities like anxiety and depression, or obesity and diabetes. But within the last 12 years, numerous studies have confirmed direct associations between hearing loss and a variety of health conditions. As you may know, a “chronic condition” is usually distinguished by its continual nature or long-lasting effects — which are both qualifiers for hearing loss. And in a recent webinar from Hamilton CapTel, the renowned researcher and lecturer Harvey Abrams, PhD discussed how hearing loss shares many traits with other chronic diseases, and highlighted specific comorbidities linked to hearing loss ranging from Anemia to Psoriasis, Rheumatoid Arthritis to Kidney Disease and even Sleep Apnea.

With these things in mind, it should be no surprise to hearing care professionals that there are direct links to hearing loss and other chronic diseases. We already know that hearing loss can make understanding speech more difficult, has a negative impact on cognitive functioning, which can then lead to reduced participation in social scenarios — but what specific associations have been made? And do different levels of hearing loss cause different levels of severity in chronic diseases? Here are five comorbidities linked to hearing loss as defined by research and discussed by Dr. Abrams:

  1. As a hearing care professional, it’s likely that you’re already aware that hearing loss can lead to depression. But recent studies, such as the two-year cycled NHANES study of over 1,000 individuals aged 70-79, determined that there are specific decibels of hearing loss which can estimate the odds of a patient self-reporting their depression. Results from the study indicated that the odds of a person self-reporting a depressive disorder was 1.5 times greater per 25 dB of hearing loss in the better ear, and the odds of reporting any depressive symptom at all increased 9% per 25 dB. This shows that not only is hearing loss directly associated with depression, but the level of hearing loss plays a major role in its severity as well.
  2. One of the leading causes of both fatal and non-fatal injuries among the elderly are falls — and they also result in major social, economic and emotional consequences as well within the first 12 months of its occurrence. To discover how falls are associated with hearing loss (beyond the side effect of general imbalance), researchers Lin and Ferucci conducted a NHANES study. After three years, they discovered a 1.4-fold increase in chances of reporting a fall in the year before it occurred for every 10 dB of hearing loss. But the most striking finding was that demographics, cardiovascular and vestibular balance function had little to no effect on the magnitude or significance of the association between falls and hearing loss. These findings show that imbalance from hearing loss isn’t the only cause of falls in the elderly, but the level of hearing loss itself is instead more accurately associated with this kind of injury.
  3. Cardiovascular disease. What do audiometric patterns have to do with cardiovascular disease? A study conducted by Friedland et al. that was published in Laryngoscope answered this question. It determined that particularly low-frequency and flat losses in audiometric patterns were strongly correlated with cardiovascular disease. Such a strong correlation was found that these researchers strongly suggest that these patients be regarded as “at risk” for cardiovascular issues, and that hearing care professionals should consider making appropriate medical referrals.
  4. With over 13 studies involving more than 20,000 participants and 7,377 individual cases, Horikawa and other researchers sought to answer why hearing impairment is more prevalent among individuals with diabetes. This systematic review revealed that not only is hearing impairment and hearing loss found two times more often in those with diabetes than those without it, but individuals younger than 60 are even more likely to develop it! Why? These researchers and authors of other prospective studies posit that, “the vascular effects of diabetes damage the blood supply to the cochlea, leading to sensorineural hearing loss. Specifically, high blood glucose levels may damage the vessels in the stria vascularis and nerves impacting the biochemistry and neural innervation of the cochlea.”
  5. Cognitive impairment and dementia. Hearing loss can place an immense cognitive strain on patients — and the older patients are, the stronger the negative impact of this cognitive strain. This correlation has held a significant place in the press and in the minds of healthcare professionals, most specifically after a study published by Dr. Frank Lin and his colleagues in 2011. This particular study involved 639 individuals who underwent audiometric testing and were dementia free in a different study from 1990-1994, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. After following participants for just under 12 years, there were 58 cases of incident all-cause dementia diagnosed, 37 of which were Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, the risk of these two conditions increased with the severity of baseline hearing loss. More specifically, when comparing these results with normal hearing, nearly twice as many patients with incident all-cause dementia experienced mild hearing loss, three times more for moderate hearing loss and almost five times more for severe hearing loss. What’s more, the risk for Alzheimer’s disease also increased with baseline hearing loss by 1.2 per 10 dB of hearing loss.

Every day, the hearing healthcare landscape changes. From new technologies to new research, it’s crucial for hearing care professionals to remain aware of the latest innovations and discoveries to provide the most optimal support for their patients — always looking beyond common assumptions, especially those surrounding age-related hearing loss. At Sonic, we’re dedicated to providing hearing care professionals unmatched support so that they can continue to thrive. Whether it’s through our webinars offered on AudiologyOnline which cover everything from new innovations in hearing instruments to industry insights, or even our comprehensive approach to training — we appreciate the value of hearing and those who help people find it! Contact us today to see how we can help you.

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