Woman putting in ear buds as she prepares to exercise for story about hearing loss

PREVENT

Types of hearing loss and how to prevent them

  • People with certain cardiovascular conditions have a 15% increased risk of hearing loss.
  • People who have diabetes and are insulin-dependent have a higher risk of damage to their hearing structures.

A hearing impairment is one of the most common health conditions. It is estimated that 15 percent of American adults have some trouble hearing and 25 million Americans experience an episode of tinnitus (ringing in the ears) each year. In this article, we’ll discuss common types of hearing loss, some health conditions that are also related to hearing loss—and offer details about prevention and monitoring of hearing loss.

 

Sudden hearing loss? Seek treatment right away

Injury, illness or extremely loud sounds can cause hearing loss to happen quickly, and you should seek immediate medical care in any of those cases. But sometimes hearing loss happens without any apparent cause, often resulting in sudden deafness in one ear. When hearing loss appears suddenly, there is usually a short time window—a matter of days or weeks—before the loss becomes permanent. If you experience sudden hearing loss in one ear or both, whatever the cause, get medical treatment right away.

 

Gradual hearing loss? Visit an audiologist

For most people experiencing hearing loss, the change happens gradually. This can be caused by the normal aging process, by sustained exposure to loud noises or even by wax build-up. Sometimes, hearing loss is an inherited trait. In this case, hearing loss can happen at any age and the severity vary by individual. For these kinds of hearing loss, it is important to measure what you can and cannot hear with an audiology evaluation. With this information, your audiologist can identify strategies to manage your hearing loss.

 

Heart disease and hearing loss

There are approximately 18.2 million adults with coronary heart disease in the United States, and it is the leading cause of death in this country. What many people don’t realize is that heart disease can have a negative effect on your ability to hear. Recent studies suggest those with certain cardiovascular conditions have a 15% increased risk of hearing loss. For African Americans with heart disease, that risk is even higher.

 

Diabetes and hearing loss

In the United States, there are approximately 34.2 million Americans with diabetes. Studies show that those who have diabetes and are insulin-dependent have a higher risk of damage to their hearing structures. This can lead to a gradual decrease in hearing. For the 14.3 million Americans who have diabetes and are age 65 and older, this creates particularly difficult situation: not only can their diabetes contribute to hearing loss, but older people may assume that their hearing loss is simply a result of aging—so they don’t always take preventative measures that could protect their hearing.

 

How to prevent hearing loss

Once you experience hearing loss, it is difficult to reverse the effects. Prevention is the key. Currently there are no medications or supplements that can prevent or treat hearing loss. Here are some tips to protect your hearing:

  • Avoid excessive noise. It’s not a good idea for anyone to expose themselves to high and sustained levels of noise, but it’s particularly important for those with underlying health issues. Loud concerts, noisy work environments, even traffic—it’s best to limit your exposure as much as possible.
  • Wear hearing protection. Sometimes you have to mow the lawn or run the vacuum cleaner. When you can’t avoid noise, take precautions to safeguard your ears. Wear earplugs or noise-reducing headphones.
  • Manage your health condition. Following medication instructions, dietary guidelines and exercise programs are important to manage chronic illnesses like heart disease and diabetes—and to prevent an impact on your hearing. 
  • Get care from an audiologist. For those with heart disease or diabetes, it’s important to complete a baseline hearing test with an Audiologist soon after a diagnosis. This test should be completed every 2–3 years to monitor any changes in hearing.

 

Treatment for hearing loss

  • Removing wax. Wax build-up can cause hearing loss, and simply removing the wax can make a big difference.
  • Surgery. Surgery can be effective for issues with the eardrum or the tiny bones within the ear. One common surgical procedure, often performed on children with frequent ear infections, is inserting tubes to help drain fluid from ear.
  • Hearing aids. These devices are used for many types of hearing loss, and for people of all ages. They amplify sound and deliver it into the ear canal. 
  • Cochlear implants. For severe or congenital hearing loss, these implants take in sound and deliver it directly to the hearing nerves.

 

For any type of hearing loss: See an audiologist

Audiologists are specialists in hearing loss and balance disorders, and they can be an important part of your overall care team—collaborating with primary or other specialty care providers to promote your overall wellness. Learn more about audiology services at Allina Health.

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