An estimated 48 million Americans are diagnosed with a hearing impairment. The majority of people with hearing loss in Tucson can blame age or noise for a decline in their hearing ability. These are by far the most common causes, but there are plenty of other factors than can lead to hearing loss – and some of them might surprise you.
Surprising Causes of Hearing Loss
- Sleep Apnea. Sleep apnea is a dangerous sleep disorder that can lead to serious health issues such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes. It occurs when tissue in the throat relaxes during sleep, obstructing the airway and leading to breathing pauses that occur repeatedly throughout the night. People with sleep apnea also have a higher risk of developing hearing loss. The reason isn’t obvious, but experts believe the low oxygen levels that occur when breathing stops contribute to reduced blood flow to the inner ear, damaging the nerve cells responsible for hearing. Additionally, the loud snoring that accompanies sleep apnea can impact hearing over time.
- Alcohol consumption. An occasional drink after work or to kick off the weekend is okay, but when it becomes excessive, your risk of developing a serious health complication increases. Excessive alcohol consumption may lead to heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. Too much can also affect your hearing; it can damage the central auditory cortex, making your brain work harder to process sounds, and can interfere with your ability to hear low-frequency sounds. Alcohol also disrupts equilibrium once it is absorbed into the fluid of the inner ear, which is why we stumble when inebriated.
- Iron deficiency. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania discovered a correlation between iron-deficient anemia and hearing loss. When looking at the medical records of over 305,000 adults, they found patients with this blood disorder were about twice as likely to develop hearing loss as individuals without it. While this isn’t conclusive evidence that iron deficiency causes hearing loss, it does illustrate the mineral’s importance in providing a health blood supply to the nerve cells in the inner ear.
- The increase in the number of mumps cases across the U.S. is troubling for a number of reasons. This once-common childhood disease was all but eradicated following the introduction of a vaccine, but a recent backlash against immunizations has resulted in a significant jump in the number of people affected. These individuals face an increased risk of serious health complications, including hearing loss; the virus can cause permanent damage to the nerve cells in the cochlea. Hearing loss is a pretty rare side effect of the disease, affecting only 1-4 percent of mumps patients, but why take the risk when there is an effective (and perfectly safe) vaccination available? Your Tucson medical professional recommends inoculating your child between 12-15 months of age and following up with a booster shot around age 4-6.
- Chronic stress. Chronic stress may not seem like a serious health problem, but it causes oxygen to be diverted to the muscles, enabling a person to quickly react when danger is imminent. Oxygen redirected to muscles must come from other places, including the blood supply to the inner ears. When inadequate, the tiny nerve cells responsible for hearing may become damaged, leading to irreversible hearing loss.
- Vaping is on the rise, especially among young people, who see it as a healthier alternative to smoking. Unfortunately, it is not; e-cigarettes contain a blend of nicotine (which restricts blood flow to the inner ear, starving the nerve cells of oxygen), propylene glycol (an alcohol-based solvent that has been demonstrated to damage hearing when used topically), glycerin and flavorings.
- Erectile dysfunction drugs. Erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra, Cialis and Levitra rely on PDE-5 inhibitors to help improve blood flow. Unfortunately, these drugs result in a small but significantly increased risk of sudden sensorineural hearing loss, a condition that comes on suddenly without warning. It’s important to understand the potential health complications when taking erectile dysfunction drugs and any other medications that are ototoxic; over 200 drugs can cause temporary or permanent hearing damage.
The odds of developing hearing loss from the above factors may be slim, but it’s something to keep in mind if any of these apply to you. To help detect hearing loss early, improving your odds of successful treatment, your Tucson audiologist recommends regular hearing exams, especially if you are aged 50 or older.