What is a Comorbidity?
Comorbidity is a medical term to describe the occurrence of two or more chronic diseases in a patient, or the occurrence of one or more disorders that occur simultaneously with a primary disorder.
Hearing loss is the third most common medical condition in the United States. Like other medical conditions, hearing loss is linked with a number of comorbidities. Here, we’ll explore the comorbidities of hearing loss. These are the diseases or conditions that coincide or are linked to hearing loss in some form. Understanding the comorbidities of hearing loss and seeking treatment for your hearing loss is important to your overall health and well-being.
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Tinnitus, commonly known as “ringing of the ear,” is a condition in which you hear a sound without an external stimulus. This sound may appear as a ring, buzz, roar, click, or whistle – it differs from person to person. Tinnitus often appears with hearing loss; approximately 80% of hearing loss cases have the occurrence of tinnitus. Tinnitus may be caused by damage to inner ear hair cells due to exposure to loud noise or ototoxic medication (a shared cause with sensorineural hearing loss), head injury, or related medical conditions such as cardiovascular disorders.
In 2011, a study from Johns Hopkins University found that untreated hearing loss may increase the risk of dementia. Over a period of 12 to 18 years, 639 test subjects were monitored for cognitive ability and hearing ability. The study found that the worse the initial hearing ability of the test subject, the higher the risk for developing dementia. Researchers believe that there is a link between the cognitive load required of the brain to make sense of unclear sound signals, which tires out the brain. An unrelated 2011 study from a team of researchers in Japan found that subjects who began to use hearing aids showed improvement in cognitive ability. Addressing hearing loss early on and treating it with hearing aids could potentially help to reduce the risk of developing dementia.
Heart disease is the most common condition in the US, and hearing loss is the third. These two conditions have been linked, wherein hearing loss may indicate cardiovascular issues and cardiovascular issues may be a cause of tinnitus or hearing loss. The circulatory system plays a crucial role in both the auditory and nervous systems. High blood pressure and/or limited blood flow may affect a patient’s hearing. At the same time, a hearing loss may indicate cardiovascular issues.
Antibiotics & Cancer Treatment Drugs
Certain medications are ototoxic (poisonous to the ear), and may cause permanent damage to inner ear hair cells. Once these cells are damaged, they do not regenerate and may lead to sensorineural hearing loss. Aminoglycoside antibiotics and certain anti-cancer drugs, such as Cisplatin, have been found to damage inner ear hair cells. If you are on prescription medication or you are undergoing cancer treatment, and have experienced changes in your hearing, notify your physician immediately.
Due to the isolating effects of hearing loss, depression is a common comorbidity of the condition. Hearing loss interferes with our ability to recognize speech, which makes conversations with our friends and loved ones difficult. People who have experienced changes in their hearing or have untreated hearing loss tend to withdraw socially, so as to avoid awkward interactions and the supposed taboo of hearing loss. With untreated hearing loss, we are often less likely to pursue our favorite activities and passions as well. In addition, untreated hearing loss may lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety. By addressing hearing loss early on, patients may avoid adverse emotional consequences of hearing loss.
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