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Woman with diabetes thinking about hearing loss.

Studies indicate that people with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss, according to the American Diabetes Association. This fact is surprising for those who view hearing loss as a condition associated with aging or noise trauma. In 2010, 1.9 million people were diagnosed with diabetes and close to 500,000 of them were under the age of 44. Some form of hearing loss probably affects at least 250,000 of the younger people who have this disease.

A person’s hearing can be impaired by quite a few diseases besides diabetes. Besides the obvious aspect of the aging process, what is the connection between these conditions and hearing loss? Consider some illnesses that can lead to hearing loss.

Diabetes

What the connection is between diabetes and hearing loss is uncertain but clinical research appears to indicate there is one. 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.

Even though there are some theories, researchers still don’t understand why this occurs. It is possible that harm to the blood vessels that feed the inner ear may be triggered by high glucose levels. Diabetes is known to impact circulation, so that is a realistic assumption.

Meningitis

Loss of hearing is a symptom of this infectious disease. Meningitis by definition is swelling of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain, usually due to infection. Studies show that 30 percent of people will lose their hearing partially or completely if they get this condition. Among the American youth, this infection is the second leading cause of hearing loss.

Meningitis has the potential to injure the delicate nerves that permit the inner ear to send signals to the brain. The brain has no means to interpret sound without these signals.

Cardiovascular Disease

Conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels are covered under the umbrella term “cardiovascular disease”. Some common diseases in this category include:

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

Age related hearing loss is usually associated with cardiovascular diseases. Injury can easily happen to the inner ear. When there is a change in blood flow, it may not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to thrive, and damage to the inner ear then leads to hearing loss.

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 could be a coincidence. Kidney disease and other conditions involving high blood pressure or diabetes have many of the same risk factors.

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

Dementia

The link between hearing loss and dementia is a two-way street. There is some evidence that cognitive deterioration increases a person’s risk of getting conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Dementia happens due to brain atrophy and shrinkage. That process is accelerated by hearing loss.

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

Mumps

Mumps is a viral infection which can cause children to lose their hearing early in life. Hearing loss may impact both ears or only one side. The reason that this happens is that the cochlea of the inner ear is damaged by the virus. Signals are sent to the brain by this part of the ear. The good news is mumps is pretty scarce nowadays due to vaccinations. Not everyone who gets the mumps will experience hearing loss.

Chronic Ear Infections

For most people, the random ear infection is not much of a risk since treatment gets rid of it. For some, however, repeated infections can wear out the tiny pieces that are necessary for hearing such as the eardrum or the small bones in the middle ear. This kind of hearing loss is known as conductive, and it means that sound cannot reach the inner ear with enough energy, so no messages are sent to the brain. Infections can also lead to a sensorineural hearing loss, which means nerve damage.

Many of the diseases that can cause 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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