Comorbidities of Hearing Loss

Comorbidities of Hearing Loss

In Health, hearing loss by Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Laurie Duffy, M.S.

Laurie Duffy, M.S. has been a licensed audiologist for over 30 years. After working for many years for non-profit rehabilitation agencies and other audiology practices, she established her own practice in 1999.
Laurie Duffy, M.S.

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Hearing loss is not only a loss of one single sense. It can appear along with other issues. Sometimes hearing loss is actually symptom or an outcome of another potentially more serious health issue. The issues and ailments that can accompany hearing loss, when simultaneously present and chronic, are called comorbidities.

These comorbidities can include physical disorders like heart disease, thyroid disease, and diabetes. They can also include mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, dementia, and even Alzheimer’s disease. If hearing loss is present, and especially if it gets worse, it can often be an early sign of these other health issues.

This list of hearing loss and its comorbidities may help you understand the links between hearing loss, especially when it goes untreated, and other illnesses.

Hearing Loss and Heart Disease

Heart disease (otherwise known as cardiovascular disease) is by far the most common medical condition in the US. The Centers for Disease Control points to heart disease as the number one cause of death in the United States, killing nearly 610,000 men and women nationwide each year. Cardiovascular diseases include ailments to the structure of the heart and the heart’s major blood vessels, and can affect blood flow as well as breathing. The cochlea is the component of your inner ear helps to transfer the noises you hear to your brain where they are reinterpreted as identifiable sounds. Cardiovascular diseases can interrupt this process, making it difficult for blood vessels to travel to the cochlea. Without good blood circulation, the cochlea’s delicate hair cells go without proper amounts of oxygen, leading to damage. The cochlea’s hair cells do not regenerate and so damaged ones can result in permanent hearing loss.

Hearing Loss and Depression and Anxiety

Hearing loss has been linked with a variety of mental health issues, namely depression and anxiety. When people experience hearing loss, especially untreated hearing loss, they often experience feelings of social isolation. This feeling of isolation is related to the difficulties people with untreated hearing loss can have communicating with people. Communication in social settings can be especially hard, as people with hearing loss often experience difficulty distinguishing between multiple, simultaneous sounds. So, something like having dinner with friends in a restaurant can feel nearly impossible. As people with untreated hearing loss retreat from their otherwise normal activities and relationships, depression and anxiety can set in and take a real toll.

Hearing Loss and Thyroid Disease

Something like 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, whose symptoms can include weight changes, headaches, chronic fatigue, and heart palpitations. Some types of thyroid disease can also affect hearing. These include Pendred Syndrome, which is a genetic disorder causing hearing loss in children and which often leads to the development of goiter; Grave’s Disease, which is one of the known causes of hyperthyroidism, and Hashimoto’s Disease, also a common cause of hypothyroidism.

Hearing Loss and Cancer Treatments

There are some classes of drugs that are poisonous to your ears, such as antibiotics and diuretics. Cancer treatments have been linked to hearing loss, however. This is in part due to some classes of ototoxic drugs used in chemotherapy—what is also described as “poisoning of the ear.” Cisplatin, for example, is a common anticancer drug. It has 69% ototoxicity at a dose less than 200 milligrams. These drugs damage your inner ear hair cells, which, as noted above, do not regenerate. They thereby can lead to permanent sensorineural hearing loss. Any changes in your hearing that you notice during your cancer treatment should be brought up to your physician.

Hearing Loss and Cognitive Decline

Researchers think that there is a relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline, and Alzheimer’s disease, in particular. One of the primary hypotheses of the relationships between the two is related to overall changes in how the brain functions when hearing loss is a factor. When you are experiencing hearing loss, the part of your brain that processes auditory information can become strained or simply go away. This can cause changes in how your brain functions overall.

When you lose your hearing, you and your brain work extra hard to compensate for the loss. The sheer work it takes to devote energy and attention to understanding a conversation right in front of you, or to follow a film that you’re watching, or to simply be in a busy social space can be quite exhausting. As you exhaust energy devoted to hearing, other cognitive functions that you use to be in the world (such as memory) can decline.

HearCare Rhode Island

If you’ve experienced changes in your hearing or struggle to make sense of speech in noise, contact us at HearCare for a comprehensive hearing test. If a hearing loss is detected, we’ll work with you to find a solution to treat your hearing needs.