Whilst hearing loss is a stand alone medical condition, various studies over a protracted number of years have shown a link to various other serious medical conditions. Here I take a look at hearing loss and links to other conditions and try and determine what is real and what is the basis for the link.
Some of these linked conditions will be very well known such as tinnitus or mental health, but what about a link to cancer or strokes or even dementia. Can hearing loss really be somehow linked to a variety of other medical conditions.
Hearing loss and Tinnitus.
This is probably the number one condition that people will link to hearing loss. Tinnitus is generally described as a ringing, buzzing or whistling/rushing sound internally within either one or both ears. (How to stop Tinnitus)
Tinnitus is caused by damage to the hair cells in the ear. This causes a break in the flow of the electrical signals that are sent to the brain. Because tinnitus originates within the ear then the link to hearing loss is pretty obvious and accepted by practically everyone.
Like hearing loss, tinnitus can be caused by exposure to loud noises over an extended period of time. There is no known cure but the condition can be managed by a variety of techniques and devices.
Hearing loss and Mental health/Depression.
This is another fairly straight forward one for me. Mental health issues can come to the fore with any other medical condition and hearing loss is no different.
When you first find out that your hearing is going it can have a major impact on your life. Studies have shown that people with hearing loss have a tendency to be more withdrawn.
From personal experience, I suffered depression for a number of years after getting my first pair of hearing aids. I thought people were staring at me, I didn’t want to see friends or even family as I felt less than a whole person.
Hearing loss affects every aspect of a person’s life. From your family to your social life to your employment, things can and will change. These changes can lead to a person becoming anxious, confused, withdrawn and overwhelmed by everything that is happening. This is particularly acute if the changes happen in a short space of time.
Mental health issues have really come to the fore over the last 10 years or so and much more attention is now given to this very real condition. The link to hearing loss is also very real. My personal story through depression can be viewed here.
Hearing loss and Vertigo (balance issues).
There is also a very strongly recognised link to hearing loss and the effects on a persons balance. It is not the actual loss of hearing but rather the causes of the hearing loss that can similarly affect the body’s natural balance rhythm.
The body’s balance is regulated by a three tiered system, The inner ear works in conjunction with the body’s visual and musculoskeletal systems to send the necessary signals to the brain which processes the information and keeps the overall balance in check.
If one of these systems isn’t working as it should then the body’s natural balance will be thrown off kilter. In the case of our ears, apart from receiving external sounds and turning them into electrical signals to send to the brain, the inner ear also sends signals to the brain regarding the direction and speed that the head is moving.
This is done through sensors in what is called the semi-circular canals. The inner ear also detects when you move in a straight line through the utricle and saccule, also known as the otolithic organs.
Any interruption in this process will disrupt the signals being received by the brain, leaving it to rely only on the other two functions and the effects on the body’s balance can be quite severe.
Hearing loss and Cancer.
The relationship between hearing loss and cancer is the reverse from the conditions mentioned above. Cancer itself has no direct link to hearing loss unless it is a tumor within the hearing system. The relationship is between some of the drugs used in cancer treatments that can have an adverse effect on our hearing system.
A study published in July 2016 by Sanjay Gupta, MD of Indiana University talks about the effects of a drug called Cisplatin. This drug is one of the most commonly used in chemotherapy treatments. However it belongs to a group of drugs that are ototoxic, meaning that they are toxic to the inner ear.
The published study refers to a study of the cumulative effects of cisplatin-based chemotherapy on hearing levels in testicular cancer survivors through comprehensive audiometry measurements. They found that increased doses of cisplatin were associated with increased hearing loss at most of the tested frequencies. Increased levels were also found of tinnitus.
Whilst this study was carried out amongst Testicular cancer patients, the authors suggested that the findings were likely to be similar in other adult onset cancers treated with cisplatin.
Obviously much more work needs to be done in this field but the link to cancer treatments and hearing loss looks to be pretty solid at this stage.
Hearing loss and Heart Disease.
At a glance this looks like a very unlikely alliance but there is growing evidence that the two may indeed be linked. A recent study by Harvard University showed that hearing loss showed 54% more often in people with heart disease than in the general population.
Many of the problems relating to heart disease are caused by a narrowing of the arteries due to a build up of plaque. This restricts the amount of blood flow through the arteries and around the body.
The inner ear is known to be extremely sensitive to blood flow and if this process is interrupted then it can have a negative impact on the nerve cells, which in turn will have a negative impact on a persons ability to hear.
In fact, a leading researcher in this field, David R. Friedland, MD, PhD, Professor and Vice-Chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, has suggested that because the inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow, that any disruption to this system many actually be a way to note the early detection of cardiovascular abnormalities.
Once again much more study and research will need to be done on this link but the logic already points in that direction.
Hearing loss and Diabetes.
Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as in those without it. Studies into the link between these two conditions have been going on from the early 1960’s but it is only recently that evidence is beginning to emerge.
It is believed that the link between these two conditions is caused by prolonged high blood glucose levels affecting the supply of blood or oxygen to the tiny nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear. Over a protracted period of time the nerves and blood vessels become damaged and reduce the person’s ability to hear.
This nerve damage is common to both type 1 and 2 diabetes. Various studies in America and Japan from 2008 through to 2011 showed similar results in linking the numbers in both conditions. There are a number of studies ongoing and future results will hopefully allow for a more definitive link to be established.
Hearing loss and Strokes.
Having a stroke can damage or destroy parts of the brain. If the part damaged is responsible for interpreting the signals coming from the ear then hearing loss will occur.
The extent of the hearing loss following a stroke will be determined by the severity of the stroke and what particular part of the brain has been affected. The more severe the stroke, the more likelihood of hearing loss.
Hearing loss and Dementia.
In a study from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine and other research institutions in the US, it was found that those with the greater level of hearing loss at the beginning of the study had a higher chance of developing dementia than those with lower or no hearing loss at all.
By their own admission the study was fairly limited in size and other factors which means it cannot be taken to be a definitive conclusion. However the results do mean that a link has been established. Read the study here.
It is obvious that much more needs to be done and indeed the researchers of the above study have called for further investigations to be initiated.
What all of these links above show is that while hearing loss is a stand alone medical condition, it can present itself alongside a wide variety of other conditions to. There are lots of studies and various forms of research going on to try and understand these links better. The more we understand hearing loss and how it relates to other medical conditions, the better future treatments will be for everyone.
Some of this content reflects information from individuals and various organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
You should always consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.
As always, I welcome any and all opinions. Please leave a comment and I will answer asap. You can also contact me at eddie@helpwithhearingloss