There are a number of different risk factors for hearing loss that are not often discussed. Several common health conditions are known to have increased risk of hearing loss associated with them and include diabetes, smoking and heart disease.
Individuals living with diabetes are twice as likely to develop hearing loss then those without diabetes. The exact link is not identified at this time, but it is known that there are a breakdown in the nerves in the ear, similar to the damage that results in the tingling sensations that people with diabetes can experience in their fingers and toes. Additionally, the increase in blood glucose levels with diabetes is believed to cause damage to the blood vessels in the inner ear and reduce the amount of blood flow into these vessels which impairs performance.
Smoking, or cigarette smoke exposure, puts you at an increased risk of hearing loss. There are a number of different ways that smoking can impact your hearing. Smoking causes damage to the tissues, hair cells, and chemical messengers in your inner ear. Furthermore, your inner ear requires oxygen and blood flow to be able to convert the sound into electrical impulses for the brain and this is impacted by the reduced blood flow that can result from tightened blood vessels from smoking.
Last, research has shown that there is a strong relationship between hearing loss and heart health. Heart disease, hypertension, or any other disorder that causes a restriction of blood supply to the auditory system can result in hearing loss and it can progress over time. It has been shown that adults with cardiovascular disease have worse hearing at all frequencies tested on a standard hearing test when compared to their peers. It has also been found that there is a change in the anatomy of the cochlea (hearing organ) in younger adults who have early onset heart disease.
We promote regular hearing tests for all individuals, but given the increased risk of hearing loss, it is especially important for those with risk factors for heart disease, diabetes, and smoking to monitor their hearing status.