From time to time, all of us have trouble hearing. You may have fluid lingering in your ears from an undiagnosed infection, or you might be in a loud place where it’s difficult to discern what anyone’s saying. Very occasional bouts of “Huh?”, “What?” or “Can you repeat that?” are nothing to be alarmed about.
But what if that hearing loss is something more serious? Untreated hearing loss has become a serious issue in the United States. Just 20 percent of those who could benefit from hearing loss intervention have received help. That means nearly 30 million people suffer from untreated hearing loss.
This condition can lead to health risks. Many people are unaware of the link between untreated hearing loss and serious conditions such as dementia and anxiety. They may be embarrassed to admit they have hearing problems, or they may be reluctant to go through the hassle of a doctor’s appointment.
And yet, it’s important to treat ear health just as seriously as you would health for the rest of the body. Here’s a look at the major risk factors for untreated hearing loss and how this condition could develop into something more critical.
No matter your age, you could suffer from untreated hearing loss. While we tend to associate hearing problems with older generations, they can happen to young people, too. Risk factors for hearing loss include:
Allowing hearing loss to go untreated can lead to a slew of other health problems, which develop as side effects. Many times, people put off seeking treatment because they don’t want a hearing aid or don’t want to admit they have a problem. Unfortunately, that problem can escalate to the point where you’re not just seeking treatment for one issue, but several.
These are among the most serious of the potential side effects for those suffering from untreated hearing loss:
A 2014 study by Johns Hopkins University linked hearing loss to an accelerated rate of brain atrophy. Those with hearing impairments suffered greater loss of brain tissue than those without, the researchers noted, including damage to the brain structures that process sound.
If you have undiagnosed hearing loss, your doctors won’t be aware of this risk for greater brain atrophy and cannot help you guard against it, such as taking supplements, changing your diet and giving up smoking and alcohol.
When you can’t hear what’s going on, getting together with friends can be frustrating. You can’t follow the conversation, you don’t understand why people are laughing and you may wonder if anyone notices your confusion. This may lead you to eschew social situations altogether because they’ve become so uncomfortable.
Engaging less socially can put you at a greater risk for dementia. Social interaction boosts the vitality of your brain, protecting against developing conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. Anything you do to discourage social interaction, such as allowing your hearing loss to go untreated, could heighten the likelihood of developing dementia.
Our ears hold small sensors that help maintain our balance, while tiny hairs in the inner-ear canal assist with keeping your head in the right position and your body in line with gravity. Hearing loss can damage these tiny but vital parts of your body. Your ears also won’t register the tiny audio cues that assist you in keeping your balance.
Your brain will try to work harder to compensate, which can be distracting. With your balance impaired and your brain preoccupied, you have a greater risk of suffering from a fall.
Depression and anxiety can develop when someone feels:
These can all be side effects of untreated hearing loss. It’s incredibly demoralizing not to understand what’s being said around you. Anxiety and depression can hit anyone, but it’s more common in people suffering through difficult times. Undiagnosed hearing loss can lead to feelings of disconnect from others and worries about whether this tough spell will ever end.
Do you have trouble hearing? Are you constantly feeling lost in conversations? Now that you know what could happen if your hearing loss remains untreated, you undoubtedly would love to go to a hearing test center to set up a hearing screening. That’s a wise move. When you address these problems proactively, you can avoid the other health issues that come with a condition that goes untreated.