Over 48 million Americans report some degree of hearing loss, and ample evidence continues to point at exposure to loud noise and aging as main causes. However, recent findings reveal that many lesser-known contributors appear to be playing silent roles as well.
As the most frequently used medication in the country, knowing the full array of risks analgesics pose is imperative. And while no drug is without it’s long list of potential side-effects, recent findings on the incidence of hearing loss for women using acetaminophen and ibuprofen deserves some extra attention. A 14 year-long study found women who used these painkillers more than 2 days per week had up to a 24% increased risk of hearing loss. The good news? Aspirin appears to have no association with hearing problems.
As if there needs to be any more reasons to avoid smoking, here’s a strong one: It turns out that smokers are 70% more likely to experience some degree of hearing loss compared to non-smokers, according to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
As deer ticks flourish seasonally, so do the rates of Lyme Disease infection, which can potentially cause sudden loss of hearing and tinnitus. Luckily, these symptoms can be effectively treated if dealt with early on, but Lyme Disease is an evasive condition and tends to mimic other diseases. Misdiagnosis is common, and delayed treatment can lead to permanent hearing loss. A simple test for Lyme Disease can rule it out early on.
A recent study of nearly 14,000 participants found that disrupted sleep patterns due to untreated sleep apnea was strongly associated with hearing loss. This compounds on the growing evidence that hearing problems are affected by a lack of sleep in general.
Men and women affected by osteoporosis are nearly twice as likely to suffer from sudden deafness, according to a recent study. Considered a medical emergency, sudden deafness needs to be treated within 24-48 hours for the best chance of a full recovery. Despite what was originally believed, osteoporosis does not appear to affect the small bones of the middle ear, and researchers are still trying to understand the connection.
As a disease that is known for the damage it can wreak on blood vessels, researchers aren’t baffled by the growing connection between diabetes and hearing damage. The tiny hair-like nerve endings in the inner ear that detect sound vibrations depend on adequate circulation for their survival, and the delicate capillaries that feed them are prime targets for degeneration in diabetes patients.
Unless highways are completely avoided, the noise level experienced in a convertible car going 55 mph or faster can result in hearing damage. Researchers found that noise consistently reached over 85 decibels when driving in a convertible with the top down, which is when damage to the inner ear typically begins. Although they noted that short durations of exposure to these levels can be tolerated, they recommended that longer drives at high speeds happen with the top up and windows closed, to avoid increased risk of hearing damage.
Interestingly, chronic or sudden stress can have the same impact as diabetes on hearing. This is because of the negative effect both stress and diabetes have on circulation. In the case of stress, the release of adrenaline and cortisol can reduce and even stop the flow of blood and nutrients to the tiny hair cells within the ear. As a result, intensely stressful events have been known to cause sudden deafness in some patients, and chronic stress is linked to the loss of hearing over time. Luckily, sudden deafness is treatable when dealt with immediately, and stress management practices are useful for overall health management.
It’s never too late to take steps to protect your hearing. And because hearing damage is often the result of several compounding factors experienced over time, implementing a few more protective measures now can help mitigate further loss down the road.