Hearing loss is often a symptom or outcome of other medical conditions, which can be very serious or even life threatening. This is yet another reason that it is so important to recognize the signs of hearing loss and seek treatment from a hearing care professional as soon as possible. More than your hearing may be at stake.

The following are a sampling of other diseases and conditions linked to hearing loss. A qualified otolaryngologist (ear, nose, and throat doctor or ENT) or an audiologist can help diagnose these conditions and provide recommendations for treatment.

Heart Disease

The number one cause of death in the United States, heart disease is known to affect hearing, and loss of hearing is considered a warning sign of this dangerous condition. A lack of adequate blood flow to the tiny vessels in the ear—caused by a heart that is not pumping blood efficiently through the body—often results in damage to fragile hearing nerves and a decline in hearing ability. Anyone diagnosed with hearing loss should also see a doctor for a cardiovascular checkup. And, anyone diagnosed with heart disease should make an appointment with a hearing care professional to check for signs of hearing loss.

Dementia

Recent studies continue to confirm what has long been suspected — there is an association between hearing loss and senile dementia. People with hearing loss may have an earlier onset and and more severe dementia. The reasons for the link are still being investigated, but the most obvious is that people who don’t hear well tend to isolate themselves and lack of regular interaction is a known risk factor for developing dementia. Other possible reasons include struggling to process information that cannot be heard clearly and a still unconfirmed physical cause-and-effect relationship between dementia and hearing loss[1].

Diabetes

People with diabetes are two times more likely to suffer hearing loss than those without the condition[2]. Diabetes refers to a group of diseases associated with high blood glucose levels caused by an inability to produce or use insulin properly. Nearly 26 million US citizens have a form of diabetes, yet most don’t realize that hearing loss is yet another risk of the disease, due to high blood sugar damaging the tiny blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Dietary changes or insulin injections are the usual treatments. Your physician can refer you to a hearing care professional for help finding the right hearing aids to improve any hearing loss.

Measels, Mumps, Rubella, and Chickenpox

These viruses are all associated with sudden hearing loss. Once commonly acquired during childhood, vaccinations now offer protection. Measles are a very contagious virus that can lead to death if left untreated. Deafness may result if the Eustachian tube becomes blocked, causing a collapse of the walls in the middle ear that cuts off airflow from the throat.

Rubella can affect a child in utero if his or her mother contracts the virus while pregnant, causing blindness and/or hearing loss.

Mumps affects a set of salivary glands and can lead to serious complications, including encephalitis and hearing loss.

Chickenpox is very contagious and once was an expected, if dreaded, childhood event. Thanks to the chickenpox vaccine, children no longer have to suffer through weeks of itchy bumps. Even more importantly, adult women who never had chickenpox can avoid contracting it during pregnancy, protecting their baby from birth defects that include deafness.

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Other conditions, such as Meniere’s disease, Waardenburg Syndrome, and meningitis have been linked to hearing loss. For more information about these and related illnesses, speak to your personal physician or a hearing care professional.



[1] Lin, Frank R., M.D., Ph.D. http://www.linresearch.org/research.html.

[2] National Institutes of Health. NIH News. http://www.nih.gov/news/health/jun2008/niddk-16.htm.