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Chronic Disease and Hearing Loss

Studies link hearing loss with other debilitating conditions and chronic disease.

The most important asset any company possesses is a healthy staff. The health of your members affects their cognitive ability and physical productivity. Hearing loss is defined as a reduced ability to hear sounds in the same way as other people. Approximately 48 million Americans have some degree of hearing loss, with about 22 million being exposed to hazardous noise levels in the workplace. 

Hearing loss is a condition that is debilitating as it worsens over time. Many think that hearing loss just affects an individual’s ability to hear, but untreated hearing loss can affect more than just the way sounds are interpreted. 

Recent studies have found that hearing loss can be linked to a wide array of other serious, chronic physical conditions that can further exacerbate the quality of health and life for your members,

Heart disease and hearing loss

The inner ear is one of the first parts of the body that’s affected by heart disease, making hearing loss a potential indicator of further bodily issues.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for men and women contributing to about 655,000 deaths per year. Though seemingly unrelated, heart health plays a big role when it comes to hearing. Good circulation is necessary for all organs and systems in the body, including your ears. The cochlea converts the noise your ears collect into electrical impulses for the brain to interpret as recognizable sound. Poor circulation affects the cochlea, the auditory area of the inner ear, which is made up of delicate cells.  Inadequate blood flow causes the cochlea to function improperly which causes damage and hearing loss. 

2017 analysis of 5,107 Australians found a strong link between heart disease (and heart disease risk factors, like high blood pressure) with an increased risk of hearing loss. Another result of heart disease is the risk for strokes. A stroke happens as a result of the blood supply to the brain being blocked, which deprives the brain of oxygen. Strokes that occur in areas of the brain responsible for hearing and balance can cause hearing impairment, dizziness and other vestibular/balance changes. When a stroke affects the temporal lobe of the brain, a person may experience long-term negative changes in their hearing. These include difficulty recognizing spoken words or sounds, an unusual perception of normal. 

Diabetes and hearing loss

Diabetes is known as the silent killer because the disease can advance painlessly and symptom-free. Individuals who suffer from diabetes are more likely to also experience hearing loss. Diabetes unchecked causes damage to the nerves throughout the body. High blood sugar levels also damage small blood vessels, this includes blood vessels in the inner ear. High blood glucose negatively affects the blood supply to the cochlea leading to sensorineural hearing loss. 

Kidney disease and hearing loss

Prolonged high blood glucose level can lead to kidney disease, and like diabetes, there is a correlation between kidney disease and hearing loss because of nerve damage. Medications used to treat kidney disease and the accumulation of toxins also contributes to the nerve damage that restricts hearing.

Dementia and hearing loss

Hearing loss can cause changes in the brain that raises the risk of dementia. When the section of the brain responsible for hearing becomes inactive, it results in brain shrinkage, a loss of tissue and changes in brain structure. Another link between hearing loss and dementia is brain overload. The brains of people who suffer from hearing loss must work harder to comprehend conversations and other sounds. Straining to hear all day depletes their energy and steals the brain power needed for remembering, thinking and performing, which also increases the risk for Alzheimer’s and other cognitive disorders.

Depression and hearing loss

People suffering with hearing loss have an increased risk of suffering from depression. Hearing loss makes it difficult to engage in social situations and perform tasks at work. The anxiety that comes with missing important information or not being able to keep up, can lead to feelings of stress, social isolation, fatigue or long-term depression. This is a result of the lack of stimulation. The more rapidly the brain declines, the greater the risk for depression and dementia.

Falls and hearing loss

Falls total more than $50 billion a year in medical costs. People suffering from hearing loss have a three-fold risk of falling, which can lead to serious injury. Like with dementia, hearing loss adds to the cognitive load, overwhelming an already limited brain. The risk of embarrassment from falling might limit excursions and activities, which leads to physical decline and further isolation.

Health insurance enables your members to manage chronic conditions, cover the high costs that can come from these diseases. It’s important to make sure that your members are covered from all sides. Hearing loss is a debilitating condition that can be a signal of other conditions. Ensuring your members have a hearing health benefit can save your company and your members high health costs and improve their quality of life and efficiency.