11 Surprising Conditions Linked with Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is routinely linked with noise exposure. While noise exposure is one of the leading causes of permanent hearing loss, there are a number of health conditions that are also linked with hearing loss. Hearing loss may be a direct result of the condition or have an unknown association with it. Know your risk factors and talk with your physician about a hearing test if you have any of these conditions.

Acoustic neuroma

An acoustic neuroma is a type of noncancerous, slow-growing tumor. The tumor develops on the main nerve from the inner ear to the brain, which influences hearing and balance.

An acoustic neuroma can cause gradual hearing loss in one ear, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), loss of balance, facial numbness and a feeling of “fullness” in the ears. Medical treatment is required and includes monitoring, radiation and surgery.

The cause of acoustic neuroma is a faulty gene, but what causes the malfunction is not known. There is a rare genetic disorder—neurofibromatosis type 2—that is the only known risk factor and accounts for only five percent of tumor cases.

Dementia

Two thirds of people in the U.S. over 70 experience hearing loss. Recent findings have linked hearing loss to cognitive decline and dementia. Hearing loss seems to speed up age-related cognitive decline.

There are a few theories as to the link, and even possibly multiple causes, but no definitive evidence as of yet. However, treating hearing loss more aggressively may help in warding off dementia and cognitive decline. Treatment includes hearing aids or cochlear implants, and prevention measure against further hearing loss. Hearing loss can also cause social isolation, which is a known factor in the development of dementia.

Diabetes

There is a large overlap of people with diabetes and people with hearing loss. Among the 84 million adults in the U.S. who are prediabetic have a 30 percent higher rate of hearing loss than those with normal blood glucose levels.

A recent study found hearing loss to be twice as common in diabetic people than in those without diabetes. Hearing loss is prevalent in both type I and type II diabetes. The link between diabetes and hearing loss is not known at this time, but may be related to blood vessel damage caused by high levels of blood sugar.

Ear infections (otitis media)

Ear infections are caused by bacteria or a virus in the middle ear. These infections are usually secondary to a primary upper respiratory illness, such as influenza, a cold or allergies. Mucus and inflammation associated with these types of illnesses causes accumulation of fluids in the middle ear, leaving it vulnerable to bacterial or viral infection.

Children are more susceptible to ear infections than adults due to their narrower eustachian tubes. There are many risk factors for ear infections. Mild hearing loss is common with an ear infection, but usually resolves to pre-infection levels after the infection clears up. Persistent infections or fluids in the middle ear may cause more significant or permanent hearing loss. Permanent hearing loss can occur with damage to the eardrum or other middle ear structures.

Head injuries

There are many types of physical head injuries that may cause hearing loss, including a traumatic brain injury, damage to the middle ear or a hole or rupture in the eardrum. The degree of hearing loss depends on the type and severity of damage to the head, but is frequently permanent. High-energy impact accidents (example: motorcycle accident) and sports injuries are just two examples of causes of head injuries that may result in hearing loss.

Heart disease

Heart disease affects the entire population, being the leading cause of death in the U.S. responsible for nearly 1 in every 4 deaths. About 610,000 people die of heart disease every year in the U.S. There is a large amount of research dedicated to showing the effect of heart disease on hearing loss and compounding existing hearing loss, which affects both young and older adults.

Inner ear hair cells depend on oxygen supplied by blood flow to keep them alive and healthy. When the heart is damaged or not working properly, it may be unable to supply enough blood to the hair cells of the inner ear. The hair cells become damaged and die, resulting in permanent hearing loss.

Hearing loss treatment depends on the level of damage and may involve hearing aids. Heart disease has many risk factors and most are preventable. Hearing loss can occur gradually and should be routinely checked in cases of heart disease.

Mèniére’s disease

The cause of this inner ear disease is unknown. Mèniére’s presents commonly with sensorineural hearing loss, dizziness, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), feeling of pressure or fullness in the ear and sensitivity to loud sounds. The disease often starts when people are between the ages of 30 and 50 and generally affects just one ear.

Mèniére’s disease is chronic and requires various treatments to relieve symptoms and minimize long-term impact. Hearing loss is a symptom and comes and goes, but eventually becomes permanent. Treatment depends on the degree of hearing loss and may involve hearing aids.

Meningitis

Bacterial meningitis is a leading cause of acquired deafness, especially in children. Approximately eight percent of patients will experience a degree of permanent hearing loss.

In severe bacterial meningitis cases, bacteria, bacterial toxins or the immune system response fluid may get into the inner ear and damage the hair cells or nerve that leads to the brain. This type of hearing loss is sensorineural and therefore permanent. It may occur in one or both ears and may differ in each ear.

In children, excess bone growth may occur post-recovery, which may make the hearing loss worse. A hearing test is necessary after recovery. If hearing loss is indicated, follow-up monitoring will be required in order to determine proper treatment, such as hearing aids.

Mumps

Mumps is a viral infection most commonly seen in children. Mumps causes the salivary glands to become inflamed leading to swollen cheeks. Hearing loss is a side effect of mumps and is permanent as the virus damages the hair cells of the inner ear (sensorineural hearing loss). Hearing loss from mumps is rare. Children should be vaccinated against the mumps virus. Mumps is rare in the U.S. due to the MMR vaccine.

Otosclerosis

Otosclerosis is a middle ear disease that makes it harder for the bones in the middle ear to move due to abnormal bone remodeling. When the bones cannot vibrate, sound cannot travel through the ear.

Normally, new and healthy bone tissue continually replaces old tissue throughout a person’s lifetime. However, abnormal remodeling causes conductive hearing loss by disrupting the ability of sound to travel from the middle to inner ear.

Hearing loss due to otosclerosis usually starts in one ear and the moves to the other ear. Dizziness, tinnitus and balance problems may also be present. More than three million people in the U.S. are affected, primarily white, middle-aged women. The cause of otosclerosis is suspected to be hereditary. No drug treatment exists. Hearing aids may help with mild cases, but surgery is usually required to correct the problem.

Paget’s disease of bone

Like otosclerosis, Paget’s disease interfere’s with the body’s natural bone recycling process. The disease causes faster than normal new bone generation. This rapid bone growth is characterized by weaker and softer bone than normal, resulting in bone pain, fractures, and deformities. If Paget’s disease affects the skull, hearing loss may result. The risk of Paget’s disease increases with age. There are other risk factors as well. Surgery may be necessary.