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How your health and hearing go hand in hand

active-seniorsBy Diane Krieger Spivak

It’s easy to believe that hearing has nothing to do with overall health.

But hearing, or the lack thereof, has a tremendous effect on more than just your ability to hear what’s going on around you.

Hearing loss is a hidden disability that can cause psychological, emotional and even physical illness, according to Hearing Health. Because most people wait years to seek help for hearing impairment, often the damage to health is already done.

Hearing loss affects mental health. Social isolation is common because many seek to avoid embarrassing situations. Unfortunately, a lack of socialization often leads to depression. Impaired hearing also leads to anger, frustration and stress, all immunity killers.

Heart disease is linked to hearing loss, too. When the cardiovascular system doesn’t work properly, blood flow to the ears is compromised, affecting hearing, health experts have determined. Conversely, the stress caused by impaired hearing can increase the risk of heart disease. Studies additionally show a link to high blood pressure.

Hearing loss also causes cognitive decline, resulting in Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, research shows. With the brain’s reduced ability to process sound, its cognitive areas take over for those weaker areas, leaving less to devote to higher level thinking, says Hearing Health.

Physical safety is also adversely affected by hearing loss. Walking, driving, riding a bicycle all become dangerous, not only for the person with impaired hearing, but for others, as well. Safety also extends to inability to hear a smoke alarm, television and radio weather warnings, or even a cry for help, adds Hearing Health.

Impaired hearing affects balance. A study at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine revealed that hearing loss, even a mild case, triples the risk of falling among the elderly, the leading cause of death for people over age 65.


Drugs that cause hearing loss

Certain medications can cause hearing loss.

Called ototoxins, there are more than 200 on the market today, available by prescription and over-the-counter, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Many are used to treat serious infections, cancer, and heart disease.

Ototoxins damage the sensory cells in the inner ear, which causes the hearing loss. In some cases the damage to hearing can be reversed when the medication is discontinued. In others, however, the hearing loss is permanent.

In some cases physicians have no alternative choices in prescribing ototoxins if they are the best available treatment for a serious disease or infection, says ASHA.

Symptoms of drug-induced hearing loss is typically a ringing in the ears, followed by a loss of hearing and loss of balance. The damage can be gradual so that you don’t notice it at first.

ASHA notes that the resulting hearing loss can affect quality of life, effectively cutting them off from activities they formerly participated in.

Medications causing permanent hearing damage include some aminoglycoside antibiotics, such as gentamicin and cancer chemotherapy drugs cisplatin and carboplatin, according to ASHA. Drugs that cause temporary damage include salicylate pain relievers like aspirin, used for pain relief and to treat heart conditions, quinine to treat malaria and loop diuretics for heart and kidney conditions.

Exposure to loud noise while taking some drugs can damage hearing even further.

While there is no way to prevent hearing loss from ototoxic medications, patients should consult their physician in order to monitor such drugs before and during treatment, and their effect on hearing so your doctor can stop or change the drug therapy, if possible, before your hearing is damaged, says ASHA.

If medication can’t be stopped or changed, consult a hearing health professional for ways to treat hearing loss.


Hearing aids may improve balance


A new study from the Washington University in St Louis found that hearing impaired individuals improved their balance when they used their hearing aids.

According to Timothy E. Hullar, MD, professor of otolaryngology at the School of Medicine. “The participants appeared to be using the sound information coming through their hearing aids as auditory reference points or landmarks to help maintain balance. It’s a bit like using your eyes to tell where you are in space. If we turn out the lights, people sway a little bit — more than they would if they could see. This study suggests that opening your ears also gives you information about balance.”


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