How Can Health Affect Your Hearing?
While hearing loss is most commonly caused by prolonged exposure to loud noises — also referred to as sensorineural hearing loss — a number of medical conditions can lead to hearing impairment as well. Fortunately, some of these medical conditions are reversible, allowing hearing to become fully restored.
Current research is finding strong associations between hearing loss and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and dementia. But many lesser-known conditions can impact your hearing health in potentially serious ways. Here are a few of them:
- Blood Conditions. Poor blood flow is typically the result of circulatory system troubles and can restrict the flow of oxygen to the inner ear. Conditions affecting blood flow include sickle-cell anemia, diabetes, and heart conditions. Things like high blood pressure, hypercoagulability, and polycythemia can also cause blood-related hearing loss.
- Infections. Meningitis, a bacterial or fungal infection of the brain and spinal cord, can cause sudden hearing loss. Hearing loss is also a side effect of treatment of tuberculosis — though it is possible that the medication used in treatment is what causes the impairment. Both hearing loss and tinnitus are common side effects of Lyme disease (carried by ticks), as well as some STDs, like syphilis.
- Disease. Ménière’s disease, a disorder of the fluids in the inner ear, is one of the most common causes of hearing loss. Its root is unknown, and the disease typically affects only one ear in individuals between ages 20 and 50. Other issues known to affect hearing include hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), kidney disease medications, Paget’s disease, and autoimmune inner-ear disease, which results in sudden-onset hearing loss and must be treated as a medical emergency.
- Hereditary Conditions. Hearing loss may run in your family. Some serious genetic disorders, such as Waardenburg syndrome, cause the head and internal organs to develop differently, which may result in hearing loss that is difficult to correct through treatment or surgery. Other conditions, like otosclerosis, affect the bones in the middle ear that conduct sound to the cochlea; some of these conditions are correctable with surgery.
- Tumors and Cancer. Cancers of the head, neck, or ear areas can affect the inner ear, but cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy and radiation, are also notorious for causing hearing loss. Some recent research out of the U.K. suggests that aspirin can help prevent permanent hearing loss as a side effect of the cancer drug cisplatin, but further research is necessary. Acoustic neuromas and tumors that grow on the auditory nerve can cause hearing loss or tinnitus, and they may put pressure on the brain, leading to other conditions. Both are usually benign and can be removed surgically.