Did you know that hearing loss is the third most common chronic medical condition people live with today? Over 48 million people, nearly 1 in 6, are affected by hearing loss. This condition reduces one’s capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound which has multifaceted effects. Hearing loss strains communication which can take a toll on relationships, social life, and health in significant ways.
A common misconception about hearing loss is that it is mainly caused by aging and only affects older adults. While aging is one cause of hearing loss, you may be surprised to learn that there are other ways hearing loss can occur. Some causes may even seem strange or unexpected! Learning about what causes hearing loss and ways you can reduce your risk can protect your hearing health and wellness.
- Airbags. Airbags are an important safety feature that provide protection that can be life saving in the event of a car accident. But airbags can also affect our hearing once they’re deployed. They can damage critical components of the auditory system – the sensory system for hearing – like the eardrum and the ossicles which are bones in the middle ear. Airbags can also produce dangerously high noise levels which can damage the sensory cells in the inner ear. One study showed that 17% of people involved in car accidents which activated the airbag, experienced hearing loss as a result.
- Earbuds. Earbuds are a common way people listen to audio – from podcasts, to music, and talking on the phone. While earbuds make it convenient to listen to audio, especially on the go, they are also a common way people are exposed to loud noise. One time or regular exposure to loud noise can permanently damage the sensory cells in the inner ear. These cells play a major role in how sound is processed by converting incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that get carried to the brain. The brain is then able to further process these signals which includes assigning meaning to them, allowing us to understand what we hear.
Loud noise can desensitize and weaken these sensory cells. This reduces their capacity
to process soundwaves effectively, resulting in the brain receiving less auditory
information which causes hearing loss. Earbuds, depending on the device they are
connected to, can reach excessive noise levels. For example, earbuds connected to an
iPhone, can reach up to 102 decibels. At this level, safe listening time is around 7
Minutes! It is important to maintain lower volume settings while using earbuds.
- Heart disease. Extensive research shows that different medical conditions can increase the risk of developing hearing loss. This includes heart disease which is a condition that affects blood flow throughout the body including the ears. Also known as cardiovascular disease, this condition can damage blood vessels which produce ruptures or blockages. This construct is blood flow which can lead to a stroke or heart attack. This can also affect the auditory system by restricting blood flow in the inner ear. This can damage or impair various components that are critical to how sound is absorbed and processed – cells, auditory pathways, nerves etc.
- Diabetes. Another medical condition that is linked to hearing loss is diabetes. Research shows that people with diabetes can be more likely to develop hearing loss. This includes a study of over 5,000 people which found that among the participants with diabetes:
- 21% experienced a mild or greater hearing loss of low or mid-frequency sounds compared to 9% of adults without diabetes.
- 54% experienced a mild or greater hearing loss of high-frequency sounds compared to 32% of adults without diabetes.
- Adults with prediabetes had a 30% higher rate of hearing loss
This highlights that diabetes is a risk factor for hearing loss. Diabetes can affect blood vessels and blood flow in the ear which impacts how sound is processed. If you have diabetes, it is important to take all necessary medications and follow regimens outlined by your doctor.
- Smoking. A recent study found that compared to nonsmokers, smokers were 60% more likely to develop high-frequency hearing loss and 20% more likely to develop low-frequency hearing loss. Nicotine can slow circulation which affects blood flow in the ears, impacting the processing of soundwaves. If you smoke, try to reduce or eliminate intake.
Hearing loss can be caused by a range of factors. It is important to prioritize your hearing health by getting your hearing tested regularly and integrating safety measures.