Common Medical Conditions and Hearing Loss.

Many medical conditions can contribute to hearing loss. Below are some of the most common.

Diabetes

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As you know, diabetes is one of the most prevalent health problems today. An estimated 30 million people in the United States are afflicted with diabetes, while another 86 million are pre-diabetic.

Many physicians, however, are unaware that damage to the cochlea with subsequent sensorineural hearing loss and dizziness are the most common complications. The National Institutes of Health published a study in 2013 that concluded that diabetics have a 200% higher incidence of hearing loss than non-diabetic individuals. Additionally, the rate of hearing loss for pre-diabetic people is 30% higher than those who have normal blood glucose levels.

Unfortunately, all cochlear hearing losses are permanent with no surgical remedies. The progress of the hearing loss can be quite rapid if the disease goes untreated. Early diagnosis and medical treatment can dramatically slow down the cochlear degeneration. The American Diabetes Association recommends a yearly hearing evaluation for diabetic and pre-diabetic individuals, as well as those with a family history of diabetes.

Dementia

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A study published in October 2015 showed that wearing hearing aids reduced the cognitive decline that accompanies hearing loss. I have copied a summary of the findings below:

Researchers compared the trajectory of cognitive decline among older adults who were using hearing aids and those who were not. The study found no difference in the rate of cognitive decline between a control group of people with no reported hearing loss and people with hearing loss who used hearing aids. By contrast, hearing loss was significantly associated with lower baseline scores ... on a well-recognized test of cognitive function, during the 25-year follow-up period, independent of age, sex and education.

Donald Schum, PhD, Vice President of Audiology and Professional Practice for Oticon, stated:

The study indicates that people with hearing loss who wear hearing aids have the same risk for age-related cognitive decline as people without hearing loss. But cognitive decline is accelerated for the people who have hearing loss and don’t use hearing aids. With this study, we are seeing for the first time evidence that hearing aids are a prevention against accelerated cognitive decline in later years.

The study’s findings show the benefit of using hearing aids to restore hearing ability late in life. Unfortunately, statistics reveal that most people wait, on average, seven years before they obtain hearing aids. Furthermore, seventy-five percent of older individuals with hearing loss who could benefit from hearing aids choose not to wear them. We now see that this decision could have a harmful impact on the cognitive functioning of this population as they advance in age.

Fortunately, if you are one of our patients, you are part of the twenty-five percent who took action to improve the quality of their lives by using hearing instruments. I think you should find this good news.

Anemia

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A recent study published by researchers at Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine revealed that iron deficiency anemia (IDA) is associated with both sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) and mixed hearing loss (combined SNHL and conductive hearing loss). IDA is a common medical condition caused by a lack of iron in the body which leads to a reduced number of healthy red blood cells. Data from over 300,000 adult patients seen at a regional medical center was analyzed for levels of ferritin (a protein in body cells that stores iron) and hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells that contains iron and carries oxygen). Information about each patient’s hearing was also gathered.

The study found that IDA patients had twice the rate of hearing loss when compared to non-anemic patients; however, the reason for the correlation was not identified. The authors speculated that IDA might be linked to hearing loss through an interruption of oxygen supplied by blood to the inner ear. A separate study found that IDA was associated with sudden SNHL, a condition often observed in people with vascular disease. Hearing loss could also be caused by a mechanism in which iron deficiency interferes with the production of myelin, a waxy substance that coats and protects nerve fibers. Damage to vulnerable fibers of the auditory nerve could lead to hearing loss. Future research will focus on the potential for reducing or minimizing hearing loss in patients with IDA through iron supplementation.

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