Effects of Hearing Loss on the Body

Many diseases can have a negative impact on an individual’s hearing — and the opposite is also true. Once established, hearing loss can impact an individual’s social, economic, academic, and personal successes. These hits on the body can develop slowly over time into even more disruptive, life-altering diseases, leading to a lower quality of life and an increased need for medical attention.

  • Data from the 2005 to 2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that women are much more likely to report experiencing depression than men. Living alone, higher body mass index, a history of smoking, binge drinking, and poorer health status are associated with both hearing loss and depression. The prevalence of depression also increases as hearing loss becomes worse.
  • Sound processing in the brain affects dementia. Patients with dysfunction in the auditory processing areas of the brain also have memory trouble, which is a precursor to Alzheimer’s. Under conditions where auditory perception is difficult, prior research shows that more cognitive resources are dedicated to sound processing, which affects brainpower.
  • Studies have shown that adults with cardiovascular disease and poor blood flow have significantly poorer hearing thresholds in speech ranges. Even among younger adults, there’s a relationship between hardening of the arteries and physical changes in the inner ear. These changes are associated with high-frequency hearing loss, which makes it difficult to hear and understand some words and higher-pitched sounds, like birds chirping.
  • Studies have also confirmed a relationship between shrinkage of the blood vessels in the inner ear and worse hearing. Physical changes in the inner ear lead to a decline in the function of the inner ear — it’s more difficult to send sound signals to the brain.
  • Data from the 1999 to 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that the odds of hearing loss are 5.5 times greater in men vs. women. Male subjects who were white, older, and less educated faced significantly higher rates of hearing loss. In particular, those with high blood pressure and diabetes, as well as smokers of more than 20 years, are more likely to have a hearing loss.
  • Data from the 2001 to 2004 National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey uncovered hearing loss as a significant factor in falling over. A mild hearing loss is associated with nearly three times the likelihood of falling. For every 10-dB increase in hearing loss, there’s a 1.4-fold increase in the odds of falling.
  • Johns Hopkins School of Medicine researchers found that individuals with hearing loss were up to five times more likely to develop dementia, based on the severity of their hearing loss.
  • Results of a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association about the association between hearing loss and smoking indicate that current smokers are 1.69 times as likely as nonsmokers to have a hearing loss. Nonsmoking participants who live with a smoker are also more likely to have a hearing loss.
  • Bodily changes that have been known to occur as a result of diabetes include a hardening of the arteries leading to the inner ear as well as damage to the nerves associated with the brain’s ability to process sounds effectively. These changes could lead to permanent hearing damage: the likelihood of a diabetic experiencing a hearing loss of mild or worse severity (25-dB loss or more) is 28 percent greater than that of non-diabetics.
  • A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association looked at the association between hearing loss and increased hospitalization rates. Compared to individuals with normal hearing, those with at least a mild hearing loss were more likely to be hospitalized more often.
  • Researchers from Johns Hopkins Center on Aging and Health discovered through cognitive testing that those with at least a mild hearing loss were 24 percent more likely to have a cognitive impairment than those with healthy hearing. Overall, the accelerated rate of cognitive decline of those with a hearing loss is as high as 30 to 40 percent.