Woman with diabetes thinking about hearing loss.

Studies show that people who have diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss, according to the American Diabetes Association. That may surprise those of you who automatically associate hearing loss with getting old or noise damage. Nearly 500,000 of the1.9 million people diagnosed with diabetes in 2010 were under the age of 44. Evidence shows that 250,000 of those younger people with the disease likely suffer from some form on hearing loss.

A person’s hearing can be damaged by several diseases besides diabetes. Aging is a significant factor both in disease and loss of hearing but what is the link between these conditions and ear health? Give some thought to some illnesses that can lead to loss of hearing.

Diabetes

It is not clear why people with diabetes have a higher chance of hearing loss or even if diabetes is connected to hearing loss, but the clinical research does point in that direction. A condition that suggests a person might develop type 2 diabetes, called prediabetes, causes people to lose their hearing 30 percent faster than people who don’t have it.

While researchers don’t have a conclusive reason as to why this takes place, there are some theories. It is possible that high glucose levels may cause damage to the blood vessels that feed the inner ear. That’s a realistic assumption since diabetes is known to influence circulation.

Meningitis

Hearing loss is a symptom of this infectious disease. Because of infection, the membranes that cover the spine and brain swell up and that defines meningitis. Studies show that 30 percent of people who develop this condition will also lose their hearing, either in part or in full. Among the American youth, this infection is the second leading cause of hearing loss.

Meningitis has the potential to damage the fragile nerves which permit the inner ear to forward signals to the brain. Without these signals, the brain has no method of interpreting sound.

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella label that covers conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels. This category contains these well-known diseases:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart attack

Usually, cardiovascular diseases tend to be linked to age-related hearing loss. The inner ear is susceptible to injury. Damage to the inner ear leads to hearing loss when there is a change in blood flow and it doesn’t receive the oxygen and nutrients that it needs to thrive.

Chronic Kidney Disease

A 2012 study published in The Laryngoscope found that people with this condition also had an increased risk of hearing loss. A separate study found that chance to be as high as 43 percent. However, this connection may be a coincidence. Kidney disease and other conditions associated with high blood pressure or diabetes have many of the same risk factors.

Another theory is that the toxins that collect in the blood due to kidney failure may be the culprit. These toxins may damage the nerves in the inner ear, closing the connection it has with the brain.

Dementia

The connection between hearing loss and dementia is a two-way street. A person’s chances of getting Alzheimer’s disease appears to be increased by cognitive impairment. Dementia happens because of brain atrophy and shrinkage. Difficulty hearing can accelerate that process.

The other side of the coin is true, also. As damage to the brain increases someone who has dementia will show a decline in their hearing even though their hearing is normal.

Mumps

At an early age the viral infection mumps can cause children to lose their hearing. The reduction in hearing might be only in one ear or it could affect both ears. The reason for this is that the cochlea of the inner ear is damaged by the virus. It’s the part of the ear that sends signals to the brain. The good thing is mumps is pretty scarce nowadays due to vaccinations. Not everyone will experience loss of hearing if they get the mumps.

Chronic Ear Infections

For the majority of individuals, the occasional ear infection is not very risky because treatment clears it up. For some, though, infection after infection can wear out the tiny pieces that are necessary for hearing such as the eardrum or the small bones in the middle ear. This form of hearing loss is called conductive, and it means that sound cannot get to the inner ear with enough force, so no signals are sent to the brain. Infections can also lead to a sensorineural hearing loss, which means nerve damage.

Many of the diseases that can lead to hearing loss can be avoided by prevention. A healthy diet, plenty of exercise and regular sleep habits really help with protecting your ear health throughout your life. You should also get regular hearing exams to make sure your ears stay healthy.

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