Hearing management

13 December 2018

Why hearing loss affects much more than your ears

Research has shown that the effects of hearing loss are far-reaching and can cause other co-morbidities such as depression.

If you are not taking proper care of your hearing, thinking that hearing loss is not such a big deal and will only affect your ears, you are wrong.

Suffering from hearing loss, but not treating it properly equals setting yourself up for a range of other serious health problems.

A large study published in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery found that untreated hearing loss can lead to a wide variety of other medical conditions, including depression and dementia. Data was taken from 200 000 people over the age of 50 who have been suffering from hearing loss for two years have shown that they were also more prone to other health problems.

Some of these health problems recorded included dementia; depression; and injury such as bone fractures and sprains, caused by accidental falls, heart attacks and strokes, according to a press release. And the longer people suffered from hearing loss, the higher the risk for these health problems.  

The links between hearing loss and the above health problems are not outlined in this study. The authors, however, set out to explore exactly how hearing loss causes other health problems.

Hearing loss, depression and social isolation

A possible explanation is the isolation, loneliness, lack of self-confidence and the way motor skills, productivity and work are affected by hearing loss. A study conducted in 2017 by the National Institution of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) found that more than 11% of people with hearing loss also suffered from depression.

“We found a significant association between hearing impairment and moderate to severe depression," said Dr Chuan-Ming Li, a researcher at NIDCD and the author of the study.

Hearing loss and risk of accident

Those who suffer from untreated hearing loss can possibly be more prone to accidents, according to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP). According to Professor Neil Bhattacharya at Harvard Medical School this link is simple to understand: If you can't hear well, you lose that crucial warning system that tells you a car or truck is driving up behind you while you’re biking, for example. “As a special sense, hearing has a tremendous protective role.”

Maintain your quality of life with hearing loss

Hearing loss doesn’t need to lead to other complications. There are some steps you can take to manage your hearing loss and maintain your quality of life.

  • Admit your hearing loss and see a specialist as soon as possible to establish your next steps.
  • Don't think that wearing a hearing aid will label you as incapable or disabled. 
  • Don’t isolate yourself. Find support groups for people who suffer from hearing loss.
  • Talk to family and friends about your hearing loss and tell them that you may have a hard time hearing conversations over the phone and in crowded areas. The more you disclose your situation, the more people will accommodate you, and you won’t need to feel embarrassed.
  • If you are working, disclose your hearing loss to your line manager and HR.
  • Go for regular check-ups with your hearing specialist.
  • Take proper care of your hearing aid to ensure the best quality sound.
  • Keep maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Follow a healthy diet and get enough exercise. 
  • Avoid injuries by being careful and alert in busy streets.
  • Don't let go of your social circle or hobbies because of hearing loss. 

Image credit: iStock


Ask the Expert

Hearing Expert

Dr Kara Hoffman graduated from UCT in 2004, thereafter she completed her year of community service in Durban. In 2010 she completed her Masters Degree in Paediatric Aural Rehabilitation from UKZN. In 2016, she became a Doctor of Audiology through the University of Arizona (ATSU). Dr Hoffman and her partner Lauren Thompson opened a fully diagnostic audiology practice called Thompson & Hoffman Audiology Inc. In 2011 with world-class technology and equipment to be able to offer the broad public all hearing-related services including hearing testing for adults and babies, vestibular (balance) assessments and rehabilitation, industrial audiology, hearing devices, central auditory processing assessments for school-aged children, school screening, neonatal hearing screening programmes at Alberlito and Parklands Hospital, cochlear implants and other implantable devices, medicolegal assessments and advanced electroacoustic assessments of hearing. Thompson and Hoffman Audiology Inc. are based at Alberlito Hospital in Ballito, St Augustines Hospital in Durban and at 345 Essenwood Road, Musgrave. The practices are all wheelchair friendly. There are three audiologists that practice from Thompson & Hoffman – including Dr Kara Hoffman, Lauren Thompson & Minette Lister. The practice boasts professional, highly qualified, and extensive diagnostic services where all your hearing healthcare needs can be met. The additional licensing in vestibular assessment and rehabilitation, paediatric rehabilitation and cochlear implantation places this practice in one of the top specialist audiological positions in South Africa, with a wealth of experience in all clinical areas of audiology and is a very well respected and sought-after practice.

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