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Chronic Diseases And Hearing Loss: What You Need To Know

We’ve long known that chronic diseases can cause a whole host of negative health issues beyond the condition itself. Particularly with conditions like diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure, which affect multiple bodily systems, our hearing healthcare might be at significant risk. Although it might seem a bit far fetched to assert that our hearing could be negatively affected by something like diabetes, there is a growing base of evidence to support the notion that many chronic illnesses can have a negative effect on our hearing.

The Evidence

To this date, quite a few studies have looked at the link between hearing loss and chronic diseases. These studies are quite diverse, as they look at the link between hearing loss and a number of different conditions, such as dementia and strokes. Here is some of what they’ve found:

  • A 2008 study found a higher rate of hearing loss among adults that already had diabetes compared to adults without the condition. From this study, the researchers concluded that hearing-related issues were common in adults with diabetes and that diabetes is likely to be a risk factor for hearing loss.
  • In 2010, a study found a significant link between low-frequency hearing loss and cardiovascular disease. After controlling for age, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and other variables, the researchers found that people with a history of strokes and myocardial infarctions (aka heart attacks) were more likely to develop hearing loss than other patients.
  • A study conducted in 2011 found that hearing loss is very common in people with dementia. However, the researchers noted that it is not yet clear whether hearing loss is an early sign of dementia or if it is an actual risk factor for the condition.

In light of this evidence, it’s important to note, that researchers are still working on determining whether there is an actual causal relationship between some chronic conditions and hearing loss or if the relationship is due to a third factor. That being said, medical professionals frequently treat patients with these chronic diseases who suffer from the various additional effects of comorbidities (conditions that often occur together), which can include memory loss, poor dexterity, vision impairment, and mental health issues, so there is substantial evidence to support these conclusions.

Treating Hearing Loss Patients With Comorbidities

When it comes to treating a hearing loss patient that also has a chronic condition, there is a lot that can be done to increase these patients’ quality of life. Since many chronic conditions and their comorbidities cause a wide array of disabilities and require substantial lifestyle changes, medical professionals can better treat their patients by first understanding the unique challenges that they face.

For patients with hearing loss, for example, a common treatment is to wear a hearing aid. People who wear hearing aids, however, must be able to do various tasks, like taking hearing aids on and off, changing their batteries, and troubleshooting any problems that arise. If a person with hearing loss also has a limited range of motion or a loss of dexterity due to a chronic condition, however, these tasks might be quite difficult.

Should a patient with dexterity issues in their right arm need a hearing aid, perhaps they might be better off with an in-the-ear hearing aid that’s easy to insert. Or, perhaps they’d benefit from a behind-the-ear hearing aid that’s rechargeable, so they don’t need to worry about handling small batteries. Thus, hearing healthcare professionals can first consider the unique problems that their patients might face before prescribing a specific treatment.

Self-Advocating As A Patient With Hearing Loss And Chronic Diseases

If you or a loved one have hearing loss and a chronic condition, you may need to advocate for yourself or your loved one as you seek out medical treatment. If you worry that you’ll struggle to operate your new hearing aids in because of a stroke you had last year, speak up and ask your hearing healthcare professional for advice or for help choosing another hearing aid model.

Or, if you’re concerned that your elderly mother with dementia is likely to lose her hearing aids, you could ask her hearing healthcare professional to recommend devices with a find-my-hearing-aid feature through an associated app. Advocating for oneself and for one’s loved ones can be critical to ensuring that everyone gets the hearing healthcare they need, especially if they have an associated chronic condition.

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