Is hearing loss linked to other diseases and conditions?

Hearing plays an important role in our health. You may be surprised by how hearing health affects and is affected by other systems in our body, from mental health to physical health. Hearing loss is connected to many other health conditions throughout the body. While hearing loss may not be the cause of these diseases or conditions, it is considered a risk factor for many.

Tinnitus and your hearing health
Do you hear buzzing, humming or ringing in the ears? You’re not alone. Nearly 50 million Americans, or 10­ to 15 percent of all adults, experience tinnitus—the name for this frustrating, yet common hearing sensation. Still, many people do not fully understand tinnitus, its causes, or how to find relief.
Tinnitus symptoms
Derived from the Latin word for “ringing,” tinnitus refers to the sensation of perceiving sounds that have no external source—in other words, hearing sounds that are not there. Common sounds include ringing, roaring, humming and buzzing. While most people experience moments or brief periods of hearing ringing in the ears at some time in their lives (usually after extended exposure to a noisy environment or following a sudden, extremely loud sound), some people experience tinnitus more regularly.
Tinnitus causes
Tinnitus is not a condition itself. Usually, it’s a symptom of another condition, which means it’s important to first identify the underlying cause. Some causes, such as excess earwax buildup, hypertension and stress, anemia, or overconsumption of caffeine or cigarettes, can be treated or eliminated relatively easily. Consistent prolonged exposure to loud noise (as in noisy work environments like factories or construction sites) can increase your risk of tinnitus. Similarly, the risk of experiencing tinnitus increases as we age, and is more common in men than women. There are some rare but serious health issues which can cause ringing in the ears, as well as some medications. Be sure to consult your doctor if you suddenly start to experience tinnitus.
Tinnitus and hearing loss
Most of the time, tinnitus is a symptom of a larger hearing health condition. In fact, 90 percent of people with tinnitus also have noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL)—though they may not even be aware of it. Hearing loss changes how the brain processes sound, and the sensation of ringing into the ears may be how the brain fills in the gaps to the missing sound frequencies.
Hearing aids for tinnitus symptoms
While there’s no cure for tinnitus, Miracle-Ear hearing aids are equipped to give you lasting treatment and relief. Tinnitus treatment options include Sound Therapy, which uses soothing audio to mask the tinnitus sound, and Notch Therapy, which teaches the brain over time to ignore the tinnitus sound. Make sure to wear hearing protection at concerts and other loud places, turn down the volume when you're wearing headphones, and be aware of your cardiovascular health, as tinnitus can be linked to blood vessel disorders. If you're one of the many American's who regularly deals with ringing in the ears, book an appointment with our hearing specialists to learn if tinnitus is to blame and whether our hearing aids can help you.
Hearing Loss and Heart Disease
Did you know there is a connection between hearing health and heart health? The body is full of individual systems that are more intertwined than you might imagine. Practicing healthy habits often benefits your body in more ways than you'd expect. Learn about that link and what you can do to strengthen both your hearing health and your cardiovascular health.
About heart disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the United States, representing in one in four deaths every year. The good news is that many forms of heart disease can be prevented through healthy lifestyle choices. The terms heart disease and cardiovascular disease are often used interchangeably. They describe a range of diseases and conditions that affect your heart. While most people experience moments or brief periods of hearing ringing in the ears at some time in their lives (usually after extended exposure to a noisy environment or following a sudden, extremely loud sound), some people experience tinnitus more regularly.
Types of heart diseases
Atherosclerotic disease: the hardening and narrowing of the arteries due to the build-up of fats, cholesterol and other substances. Heart arrhythmias: abnormal heartbeats, whether irregular, too fast or too slow. Congenital heart defect: a heart abnormality you’re born with. Dilated cardiomyopathy: the heart becomes enlarged and cannot pump blood effectively. Endocarditis: an infection of the heart’s inner lining, typically involving the heart valves. Valvular heart disease: damage to or a defect in one of the four heart valves.
Symptoms of heart disease
Symptoms can vary based on the type of heart disease, but many are common across all types. These include: Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure and chest discomfort Racing or slow heartbeat Shortness of breath Pain, numbness or weakness in your extremities Fluttering in your chest Lightheadedness Dizziness Fainting or near fainting Heart disease, like many other conditions, is easier to treat when detected early. Seek medical care if you experience one or more of these symptoms, especially if you have a family history of cardiovascular disease.
Risk factors for heart disease
Although anyone could be at risk for heart disease, there are some risk factors that may make you more likely to develop a heart condition. Risk factors that are out of your control include: Age: The older you are, the higher the risk. Gender: Men are at a greater risk than women. Women’s risk increases after menopause. A family history of heart disease. Other risk factors can be controlled by making healthy lifestyle choices. The following can increase your chances of developing heart disease: Smoking Poor diet High blood pressure High blood cholesterol levels Diabetes Obesity Excess stress
Link between hearing and heart health
The link between heart disease and hearing loss has been well established for years. Simply put, it’s all about blood flow. The inner ears are extremely sensitive to blood flow. Heart problems can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries and restrict blood flow, which also causes irreversible damage to the ear. Also, the delicate nerves in the cochlea play an important role in translating noise in your ears to electrical impulses to your brain. Poor circulation can reduce adequate oxygen, causing damage to these nerves. David R. Friedland, M.D., Ph.D., Professor and Vice Chair of Otolaryngology and Communication Sciences at Medical College of Wisconsin, explains, “The inner ear is so sensitive to blood flow that it is possible that abnormalities in the cardiovascular system could be noted here earlier than in other less sensitive parts of the body.” In 2010, researchers Raymond H. Hull and Stacy R. Kerschen published a review of more than 60 years of research, finding that impaired heart health has a negative impact, particularly in older adults. Similarly, improved heart health has a positive influence on hearing health. Research from Miami University shows that an active lifestyle can play a big part in a healthy cardiovascular system, including regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy diet and keeping blood pressure in a good range. The higher the level of cardiovascular fitness, the better the hearing of the study’s older participants. In summary, improving cardiovascular health has been shown to reduce your risk of hearing loss.
Are hearing loss and dementia connected?
Many studies show a connection between hearing loss and dementia, a condition marked by memory loss and trouble with thinking and problem-solving. In fact, hearing loss is estimated to account for 8 percent of dementia cases in the US. The good news: Treating hearing loss aggressively can actually help ward off cognitive decline and dementia.
Does hearing loss cause dementia?
The latest aging research has not only drawn connections between hearing loss and dementia, but it’s also leading scientists to believe that it may actually be a cause of dementia. Research is still ongoing, but studies detailing the prevalence of hearing loss cases are providing more information about their correlation and causes. In a 2011 study, scientists found that the greater a person’s hearing loss, the greater their chances for cognitive decline seem to be. Mild, moderate and severe hearing loss meant the odds were two, three and five times greater, respectively, over the following 10-plus years. [1] Researchers also examined participants’ lifestyles to determine the effects of social interactions, health conditions and involvement in leisure activities on the prevalence of dementia and cognitive decline. A 2013 study found that participants with hearing loss severe enough to interfere with conversation had a decline in cognitive ability 30 percent to 40 percent faster than those with normal hearing, over a period of six years. Researchers found that levels of declining brain function were directly related to the degree of hearing loss. On average, older adults with hearing loss developed impairments in their cognitive health 3.2 years sooner than their peers with normal hearing. [2] Finally, a 2020 report found that out of 12 risk factors, hearing impairment presented the greatest risk of dementia. Researchers found that there was a 8 percent reduction in dementia prevalence if hearing loss was eliminated as a potential danger. At the same time, the report noted a decrease in cognition for every 10 decibel reduction in hearing. [3]
How is hearing loss linked to dementia?
Several factors account for the relationship between hearing loss and dementia, including: Cognitive Load: If you suffer from hearing loss, your brain must work much harder to process sound. Other regions of the brain, even areas that don’t normally process sound, are used to take in sounds to make up for the hearing’s reduced ability. More of the brain is needed and more effort is expended to understand any noises or stimuli. This takes away resources that could be used for other cognitive activities. Social Isolation: Numerous studies show a direct link between feeling lonely or isolated and dementia. Studies have found that for every decibel drop in perception in people under 70, the odds of becoming severely lonely increases by seven percent. When you have hearing difficulties, it’s more difficult to join in conversations or interact with friends, family and colleagues, leading to a sense of isolation or even avoiding interactions altogether. This isolation can raise the risk of numerous adverse health effects, including depression and anxiety. Auditory Processing: You are no longer picking up as many sounds when you have hearing loss, which means your hearing is sending fewer signals to your brain. As a result of having less to process, your brain function begins to decline. Receiving fewer signals in the brain also means that people with hearing loss experience faster rates of brain atrophy.
Is hearing loss a sign of dementia?
As we’ve seen, scientists are conducting ongoing research to tease out the details of the connections between hearing loss and dementia. The question of whether hearing loss is a sign of dementia doesn’t have a definitive answer just yet. The associations between the two conditions are increasingly well-documented, but the causation of one in relationship to the other remains undefined. If hearing loss is a sign of dementia, it is one of many. Both hearing loss and dementia are complex conditions with many potential contributing factors and symptoms. While the search for more refined understanding continues, the links between hearing loss and dementia of which we are already aware can help us make decisions that support hearing health and stave off dementia.
How can hearing aids help prevent dementia?
It’s important to note that just because someone is at an increased risk for dementia, it does not necessarily mean that person is certain to develop it. However, you can take steps to prevent the condition. Some experts believe the treatment of hearing loss in mid-to-late life could prevent 9% of dementia cases globally. Hearing aids are the most effective way to treat noise-induced or age-related hearing loss.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes, among other health conerns, can be more intertwined with your hearing health and abilities than you might expect. By having an understanding of your overall health and how it impacts hearing, you can take more preventative action against hearing loss. Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects the way your body converts food into energy. Most of the food you eat gets broken down into sugar, or glucose, and released into your bloodstream. When the blood sugar in your body increases, your pancreas takes it as a sign to release insulin. Insulin is the hormone that prompts your body’s cells to use your blood sugar for energy. People with diabetes can’t produce the amount of insulin their bodies need, or they have difficulty using their insulin properly. When this occurs, your cells can’t use your blood sugar for energy like they usually would.1 This results in excessive amounts of blood sugar staying in your bloodstream and potentially leading to health complications over time. High blood sugar levels have even been linked to health complications like hearing loss.
Can diabetes affect hearing?
Diabetes and hearing loss are two of the biggest health problems facing Americans today. Recent studies suggest that there is some crossover between the 34 million Americans with diabetes and the 34.5 million Americans living with some form of hearing loss.2 According to the CDC, blood sugar levels that are either too high or too low can damage the nerves that are responsible for your hearing and cause hearing loss.1
Studies on diabetes and hearing loss
A study by the National Institutes of Health found that hearing loss is twice as common among adults with diabetes compared to adults who don’t have diabetes. Researchers took a nationally representative sample of adults and gave them all hearing tests that measured their ability to hear low, middle, and high frequency sounds in both ears. The study found a link between diabetes and hearing loss across every frequency, especially in the high frequency range. Mild or greater hearing impairment in the subject’s worse ear was present in 54% of adults who had diabetes, compared to 32% of adults who did not. Adults diagnosed with pre-diabetes were also tested against adults with normal blood sugar levels. Subjects were tested after an overnight fast, and the study found that participants with above average blood sugar levels had a 30% higher rate of hearing loss than those with normal blood sugar levels.3 In 2011, researchers from the Tsukuba University Hospital Mito Medical Center in Ibaraki, Japan, found that hearing loss was twice as common among diabetics than it was among non-diabetics. Researchers compiled studies on 8,800 people with some form of hearing impairment and 23,839 people without. They found that the patients with diabetes were 2.3 times more likely to also have mild hearing loss.4
Why is some hearing loss caused by diabetes?
Autopsy studies done on diabetics have suggested that hearing loss can be caused by diabetes, because elevated blood sugar levels can damage the important nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear.3