Hearing Loss and Its Comorbidities in Adults
Hearing loss affects approximately 37 million American adults. And if left untreated, can lead to other health conditions. Learn how hearing loss can affect adults, including possible comorbidities associated with hearing loss.
What is Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss, also known as hearing impairment, happens when there is a problem with one or more parts of the ear, the nerves coming from the ears, or the hearing part of the brain. Hearing loss is a range – some people who experience hearing loss might be able to hear some sounds based on volume or tone, while others might not be able to hear anything at all.
Hearing loss can be progressive for some, meaning that it can come on slowly, and for others, they may be born with it.
However, hearing loss in and of itself is considered comorbidity – a medical issue that coincides with another medical problem. But that doesn’t mean additional comorbidities can’t be brought on by it.
Impacts of Hearing Loss
Beyond medical comorbidities – which you’ll learn about later on in this post-hearing loss in adults can have negative impacts on your personal life. Whether it’s feeling disconnected from loved ones at dinner, battling self-doubt, or experiencing difficulties with your performance at work, many adults who have hearing loss experience problems mental and emotional impacts as well.
Prevalence of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss in some form or another is quite prevalent in the United States. Approximately 15% of American adults, aged 18 or older, have reported some trouble with their hearing. That’s over 37 million American adults. And about 28.8 million Americans would benefit from the use of hearing aids. Hearing loss in older adults is even more prevalent with nearly 25% of Americans between the ages of 65 – 74 experiencing loss of hearing.
Types of Hearing Loss
What are the types of hearing loss? Hearing loss has many different factors, however, there are three basic categories of hearing loss:
- Sensorineural hearing loss – This type of hearing loss is the most common and occurs when the inner ear or the actual hearing nerve itself becomes damaged.
- Conductive hearing loss – This type of hearing loss occurs in the outer or middle ear where sound waves are not able to carry all the way through to the inner ear.
- Mixed hearing loss – This type of hearing loss occurs when someone has a mix of both sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss factors.
If you are experiencing hearing loss, it’s important to have a hearing test to determine the type and cause of hearing loss.
Hearing Loss Causes in Adults
There are varying causes of hearing loss in adults including age, chronic exposure to loud sounds, earwax buildup, fluid in the ear, and infections, among other causes. The type of damage is often directly related to the type of hearing loss.
Additionally, it’s important to be aware of family history as it pertains to hearing loss – as genetic hearing loss in adults, also known as hereditary hearing loss in adults, is another factor.
Comorbidities Associated With Hearing Loss
They’ve been mentioned so you’re probably wondering, what are the complications of hearing loss?
Hearing loss can lead to additional mental and physical problems if left untreated. The six major comorbidities associated with hearing loss are social anxiety (loneliness), depression, increased risk of falls, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cognitive impairment (dementia).
Social Anxiety & Loneliness
Hearing loss often leads to social isolation. As hearing becomes challenging, people will withdraw and avoid social or professional situations where hearing interactions are present. The increased isolation will lead to loneliness and, many times, social anxiety when social situations can’t be avoided.
Like with hearing, the risk of social isolation increases as we age. It also increases the risk of numerous related mental and physical health challenges. So it is important to be aware of the risk of isolation, loneliness, and social anxiety as they relate to hearing loss.
Losing the ability to enjoy sounds that once brought you joy or comfort – or made you feel connected to the world and others – can leave you grieving what once was. Along with loneliness, deprivation, and sadness, these feelings can lead to depression.
Additionally, the strain to hear in social and business settings all day, day after day, can become stressful, increasing the risk of depression.
Falls are the leading cause of both non-fatal and fatal injuries among the elderly adult population. Non-fatal falls can lead to significant health, social, economic, and emotional consequences. Complications from non-fatal fall injuries can turn fatal within the first 12 months of a fall among this generation.
Hearing loss is one of several risk factors that cause falls (even a mild degree of hearing loss triples the risk of an accidental fall). As a person gets older, both their risk for hearing loss and other risk factors for falls increase – so it is important to be aware of potential hearing loss in aging populations.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both American men and women, resulting in nearly 610,000 deaths each year in the US. Cardiovascular disease often brings an array of medical issues that affect the structure of the heart and circulation.
Good circulation plays a role in maintaining good hearing health. So inadequate blood flow and/or trauma to the blood vessels of the inner ear can contribute to hearing loss.
Along the same lines, high blood sugar – often associated with diabetes – can damage blood vessels throughout your body, including your ears. Over time, when diabetes isn’t well managed, damage can be caused to the blood vessels in your ear leading to hearing loss.
Additionally, poorly managed diabetes can lead to nerve damage throughout your body, including within your ears. Damage to the auditory nerves could lead to hearing loss.
Cognitive Impairment & Dementia
According to several studies, older adults with hearing loss are more likely to develop cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, compared to those who do not have hearing problems. In fact – individuals with moderate to severe hearing loss are up to 5 times more likely to develop cognitive impairment disorders. As a person’s hearing worsens, the risk of cognitive decline increases.
Hearing Loss Treatment
How is hearing loss managed or treated? There are a variety of treatment options, ranging from ear wax removal to hearing aids to surgical procedures. But the first step is receiving a screening for hearing loss.
Screening for Hearing Loss in Adults
If you feel as though you may be experiencing hearing loss, you may be wondering how hearing loss is diagnosed. It’s important to contact a specialist to receive a screening for hearing loss in adults. AnyPlace Audiology offers multiple hearing tests and our experts can advise you on which hearing test is the best option for you.
AnyPlace Audiology offers comprehensive hearing health care. Our team helps you understand your condition and explore all available possibilities so that you can feel comfortable with your hearing health decisions.
Contact us today to schedule a hearing test with one of our experts.