When many of us consider the classic risk factors for hearing loss, we think of things such as a traumatic injury or a lifetime of exposure to loud noise. While these events and environmental issues are, indeed, significant risk factors for hearing loss, there are many other risk factors for hearing loss that fly under the radar, some of which might surprise you. Here are some of the lesser-known risk factors for hearing loss:
Binge drinking can certainly damage your liver, but new studies have shown that it can also damage the part of our brains that controls our hearing abilities – the central auditory cortex. Research has shown that excessive drinking can increase the amount of time it takes for the brain to process noises as well as cause difficulties in hearing lower frequencies since alcohol is absorbed by the fluid in the inner ear and stays there, even after it’s been nearly eliminated from the body.
Sleep apnea is a problematic condition in its own right, but did you know that having sleep apnea has been linked to a higher risk of developing hearing loss? While researchers aren’t entirely sure why this happens, a number of studies in recent years have linked the two conditions.
One of the potential theories behind why sleep apnea and hearing loss are linked has to do with sleep apnea’s effects on the blood’s oxygen levels and overall circulation. Since the sensitive organs of the ear require a lot of oxygen and blood flow, sleep apnea might be cutting off a vital part resource to the ears, which could damage our hearing.
New research has shown that there’s a link between iron-deficient anemia (IDA) and hearing loss after scientists analyzed the medical records of more than 300,000 adults. Although researchers weren’t able to conclude that IDA causes hearing loss, they did find that people with IDA were twice as likely to also have hearing loss than their peers without IDA. A potential explanation for this connection could lie on the fact that iron levels are crucial for providing a healthy flow of blood to the delicate hair cells of the inner ear, which are incredibly important for our hearing abilities.
Stress is a common aspect of many of our lives. Unfortunately, extreme stress has been linked to a number of adverse health effects, including hearing loss, though it’s not totally clear why. Researchers believe that, during stress, the body can divert oxygen in the blood to the muscles, which would allow for faster responses during a fight-or-flight emergency, so during prolonged stress, your ears might not be getting the oxygen they need to function properly.
Mumps used to be a common childhood disease, though these days, it’s pretty rare in the United States. Usually, it causes painful swelling of the salivary glands in the face, but in rare instances, it can cause encephalitis (swelling of the brain), meningitis (swelling of the meninges – the membranes covering the brain), or even hearing loss. Researchers believe that mumps can damage the cochlea – the ear organ that’s highly involved in our ability to hear.
The “little blue pill” has led to an increased quality of life for many, but if you’re taking Viagra, you should keep an extra close watch on your hearing health, too. Unfortunately, Viagra is considered to be ototoxic, which means it’s harmful to your hearing health. In fact, people who take Viagra are twice as likely to have hearing loss and instances of sudden hearing loss have been recorded. Thus, if you take Viagra, or you’re considering it, be sure to talk with your physician about any potential negative side effects.
Vaping And Smoking
Both vaping and traditional smoking are linked to hearing loss. Thanks to nicotine – the addictive substance found in tobacco and many “e-juices,” people who smoke are at an increased risk for hearing loss. This is because nicotine can restrict the blood flow throughout your body, including within your inner ear, where your delicate hair cells receive and transmit sound to your brain.
New studies are even showing that e-cigarette juice without nicotine is harmful to your hearing health, due to a chemical they contain known as propylene glycol, which is known to adversely affect hearing abilities and even cause sudden hearing loss.