On average, a person with hearing loss waits 7 to 10 years before visiting a hearing healthcare professional for diagnosis and treatment. However, there are several compelling reasons why you shouldn’t wait. Doing so hinders your ability to experience life to its fullest and causes an unnecessary burden on your relationships with friends and family. Taking action early is also good for your overall well-being, as untreated hearing is linked to many other serious health concerns.
Continue reading (select a topic below) to learn about 10 major health conditions that have been connected to untreated hearing loss.
Researchers have found that a higher body mass index (BMI) and larger waist circumference are associated with a higher risk of hearing loss. They have also found that the risk of developing hearing difficulties increases by up to 27% for people who are overweight. A separate study discovered that obese teenagers are more likely to develop hearing loss than their peers with lower BMIs.
Overweight and obesity ranges in adults are measured using a person’s weight and height to compute their BMI. The BMI is used because, for most people, it correlates with the amount of fat in their bodies.
A BMI of 25-30 is considered overweight, and a BMI over 30 is considered obese. You can use the CDC’s online tool to calculate your BMI here.
Recent studies show a significant association between hypertension (high blood pressure) and hearing difficulties in Baby Boomers. It’s known to have the ability to cause sudden hearing loss and/or tinnitus (ringing in the ears), and high stress and anxiety can also make tinnitus symptoms worse. Ironically, hearing loss and tinnitus often cause even more stress.
In turn, hypertension and stress can lead to other types of health concerns such anxiety attacks, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and more.
The CDC reports that 30.3 million Americans, 9.4% of the population, have diabetes. However, it’s estimated that 7.2 million diabetic Americans are undiagnosed. This is especially important because hearing loss has been found to be twice as common in people who have diabetes, regardless of the person’s age.
It’s thought that uncontrolled fluctuations in blood sugar levels contribute to hearing loss because they damage blood vessels and nerves throughout the body, including those found in the functional parts of the ear.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., affecting over 600,000 people a year. Cardiovascular diseases resulting from poor nutrition, lack of exercise, stress, and smoking have been closely linked to hearing loss in older adults. This is because poor cardiovascular health decreases blood flow, and the structures in the ear need strong blood flow to continue working properly.
Some researchers have even called the ear a “window to the heart” because they’ve found that audiogram patterns (the results of a hearing test) correlate strongly with heart disease. This means that doctors might be able to use these patterns as screening criteria to assess whether someone is at risk for cardiovascular events like heart attacks.
It’s estimated that 22 million Americans experience sleep apnea. This is a disorder in which a person’s breathing pauses or becomes shallow/infrequent at least five times an hour during sleep.
Sleep apnea has been linked with the development of hearing difficulties, possibly because it reduces blood supply to the important parts of the inner ear. In a recent study, participants with sleep apnea were found to have a 90% higher risk of hearing loss.
Did you know that one in three American adults aged 65 and older falls each year? Hearing loss can create balance difficulties and has been associated with more incidences of falling. Slipping and/or falling can be dangerous for anyone, but it poses an even greater threat of injury to older demographics.
Hearing loss has also been linked to a greater number of hospital visits, many of which can likely be explained by these balance difficulties and falls.
Predicted to nearly double in prevalence every 20 years, dementia is a general term for cognitive decline that’s severe enough to interfere with daily life. Memory loss is one of this condition’s greatest side effects, which is why Alzheimer’s is the most common type of dementia.
Two-thirds of Americans over age 70 have age-related hearing loss. What’s more, hearing loss has been strongly associated with cognitive decline in older Americans. But there is good news: early research suggests that using hearing aids can delay the onset of dementia.
Older Americans with hearing loss have been found to lose brain tissue faster than those who do not have hearing loss.
If you don’t use it, you lose it. Over time, people with hearing loss have an increasingly difficult time understanding sounds such as S, T, and P. However, hearing aids help to improve speech comprehension and overall communication with friends and family. This means they give you the ability to “use it,” increasing your communication frequency and clarity to keep your brain in good shape and prevent it from losing the ability to recognize speech over the long term.
As a person’s degree of hearing loss increases, so does the likelihood that they’ll experience feelings of isolation. According to research, this is especially true for older Americans.
Furthermore, women are 70% more likely than men to experience depression in their lifetime. Research also shows that severe depression is more prevalent among people with hearing loss, especially women. However, over 40% of women with hearing loss do not own hearing aids, even though using them is often a simple and effective way to feel more connected to the world.
It’s been shown that hearing aid users experience improvements in their physical, emotional, and mental well-being. In fact, hearing aid users report a 50% improvement in feelings of self-worth and a 26% improvement in relations at work. This is often a result of the way hearing aids help people to be more connected and engaged in their relationships and daily life.
And there’s even more good news. For those with milder hearing losses, hearing aids have been shown to alleviate the impact of income loss by 90-100%!
The connections between untreated hearing loss and other health conditions have serious implications, but we’re not out of luck: an estimated 90% of people with hearing loss would benefit from the use of hearing aids. It’s in your best interest to visit your local hearing healthcare provider for annual hearing screenings in order to track and evaluate your hearing ability. No matter your personal situation, taking action early can only help you in the long run.