If you’re not treating your symptoms properly, hearing loss can put you in the hospital. I know, I know, that sounds a little alarmist. We’re used to thinking of hearing loss as little more than an inconvenience–something that makes NCIS: Los Angeles a little harder to hear or, at worst, makes you unwittingly agree to wear a puffy shirt in public.
But new research is ringing alarm bells over the long term health impacts of hearing loss (if you were wearing a hearing aid, we wouldn’t have to ring those alarms quite so loudly).
What Does Hearing Loss Have to Do With Your Health?
At first glance, hearing loss doesn’t seem to have much to do with other health indicators. But research conducted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health suggests that untreated hearing loss can result in a 50% increase in hospital visits over time. The longer the hearing loss remains untreated, the more significant the health havoc becomes.
That’s a puzzling finding: what does hearing have to do with your overall health? The answer lies in your brain. (Though, I suppose all answers lie in your brain…because that’s where you do your thinking.)
Hearing Health and Mental Health
It should come as little shock that, as linguistic beings, humans put a lot of brain power into daily hearing tasks. If you’ve gradually lost your hearing, the brain can become confused by the lack of input from your ears.
For hearing loss patients, this can mean significant health problems:
- An increase in anxiety and depression. Simply put, anxiety and depression can have a powerfully negative effect on your physical body, to say nothing of your mental health. That’s especially true when they are untreated. Some of this can likely be traced to the fact that communication–that anchor of our humanity–is so much harder when you can’t hear as well as you used to.
- Memory can begin failing. Your brain is a funny little ball of wrinkles–and it’s wired the same way your unlicensed brother-in-law “renovated” the circuits in your home: it’s a mess. There are connections everywhere, from memory to visuals to smells to hearing. So when the connections between your hearing and brain start getting confused, there can be cognitive drawbacks elsewhere. It’s sort of like when the lights stop working every time you plug your hair dryer in (in all seriousness, call an electrician if this happens… a real one).
- Loss of balance. Hearing loss can make it harder to keep your balance and maintain situational awareness.
For someone who has experienced a lack of hearing for his or her entire life, these issues likely won’t come up–at least, not with the same ferocity. It’s the change–the deterioration–that messes with your health.
Hearing Aids: A Real Solution
It’s not all doom and gloom, though–far from it. The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School research suggests that up to 75% of the cognitive decline associated with hearing loss can be stopped in its tracks by one simple solution: wearing a hearing aid.
Wearing a hearing aid seems to have a profound impact on mitigating the risks associated with untreated hearing loss. According to the study, patients who wore hearing aids for just two weeks saw:
- Improvements in brain function.
- Improvements in balance and awareness.
- Reductions in traumatic brain injuries.
The team from Johns Hopkins looked at data from 77,000 patients collected over roughly twenty years. And the conclusion is staggeringly simple: protecting your hearing is essential to preserving your health (and your wallet…don’t forget that going to the emergency room isn’t exactly cheap).
Preserving Your Hearing and Your Health
Hearing loss is a perfectly normal part of the aging process, though it’s not exclusive to getting older. Accidents, occupational hazards or disease can cause hearing loss at much younger ages.
However or whenever you lose your hearing, it’s extremely important that you talk to a hearing specialist and take the appropriate steps to treat your hearing loss. Your health could depend on it. (Okay, we’ll turn those alarms down a bit now that you have your hearing aid in.)