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Research Links Stroke to Sudden Hearing Loss

The onset of Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSNHL) can be a frightening experience. Since it is unpredictable and develops rapidly, it is especially alarming. Most incidents of SSNHL develop within three days and are usually unilateral – affecting only one ear. Individuals may wake up to discover hearing loss, or they may notice it occurring over the course of several days. Sudden sensorineural hearing loss is defined as a hearing impairment of at least 30 dB in three sequential frequencies.

Vascular occlusion and hearing

While medical practitioners can’t say definitively what provokes an episode of SSNHL, sometimes the vascular system seems to play a role. Besides vascular occlusion, other causes may include:

  • Viral and bacterial infections
  • Ruptured inner ear membranes
  • Tumors
  • Autoimmune diseases

Researchers have focused on understanding the role that the vascular system plays in sudden hearing loss, including strokes. A stroke is brain damage that results from an obstruction in its blood supply. A stroke that occurs in the outer part of the brain stem can impact hearing.

Risk of Stroke Development among SSNHL Patients

Published in 2008 in Stroke, a study based in Taiwan sought to determine whether there was a link between SSNHL episodes and an increased risk of stroke. The study, conducted by Herng-Ching Lin, Pin-Zhir Chao and Hsin-Chien Lee, evaluated 7,115 patients over the course of five years after hospitalization. Of these 7,115 patients, 1,423 of them were hospitalized right after sudden hearing loss. The researchers used the remaining 5,692 appendectomy patients as a control group.

At the conclusion of the five-year study, 621 patients of the entire sample population had experienced a stroke – 180 of whom were SSNHL patients. After the researchers adjusted for gender, income, medical background and other relevant factors, the data indicated that the hazard for having a stroke was 1.64 times greater – more than a 150% increased chance – for SSNHL patients than the control group appendectomy patients. For the first time this study demonstrated that sudden hearing loss may serve as an early warning sign for a stroke.

What Should Patients who have Experienced Sudden Hearing Loss do Next?

Since approximately 40 – 65% of SSNHL cases result in spontaneous recovery, there is hope. However, anyone who has experienced sudden hearing loss should monitor their health and look for signs of impending stroke. According to the 2008 study, the average time between initial SSNHL hospitalization and the onset of stroke was 804 days. Most strokes occurred within the first two years.

After you or a loved one has experienced sudden hearing loss, it’s important to undergo a comprehensive neurological exam and schedule routine follow-ups, even years after the initial event. For more information on hearing and audiological effects of stroke, make an appointment for our free hearing assessment*.

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Memory Function and Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know

While hearing loss often presents a host of emotional complications, such as feelings of frustration, research now ties hearing loss with additional health conditions. Recent research from Johns Hopkins drew a connection between varying levels of hearing impairment and diminished mental health. This included increased difficulty walking and dementia. Along with hearing loss, individuals demonstrated general brain function loss, resulting in forgetfulness, impaired thinking and fluctuations in mood or personality.

About the research

Frank Lin, M.D., Ph.D. led the study. It tracked and analysed 639 adults over 12 years. Brain scans showed degeneration occurred at a faster rate in those with hearing loss over those without. The study concluded that:

  • Individuals with mild hearing loss were two times as likely to have dementia.
  • Those with moderate hearing loss were three times as likely to have dementia.
  • Individuals with severe hearing loss were five times as likely to have dementia.

Why does hearing loss contribute to mental deterioration?

We don’t know for sure. However, medical practitioners believe that social isolation may play a role. Individuals with hearing loss tend to disconnect and withdraw from their social world. As a result they miss out on conversations and everyday interactions that stimulate the brain. Without the frequent mental stimulation of socializing, the brain may begin to undergo atrophy. Therefore, an individual’s diminished hearing impacts memory.

Additionally, the brain works harder to process surrounding sounds and signals to compensate for hearing loss. This increased exertion and mental multitasking may interfere with the neural connections needed to walk and move around.

Reducing risk factors

Hearing aids help individuals process sound and follow conversations. Data shows that even though millions of Americans have hearing loss, only one in seven uses a hearing aid. And, hearing aid users wait seven years before seeking audiological assistance. Despite common misconceptions, today’s hearing aids are inconspicuous, affordable and highly effective in combating hearing loss.

If you or someone you love exhibits signs of hearing impairment, we can help. Since hearing loss can impact memory and other aspects of brain function, it is important to have a hearing assessment. Contact us today to discuss if hearing aids or other services are right for you.

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Do I have mixed hearing loss?

Mixed hearing loss means having both conductive hearing loss and sensorineural hearing loss in the same ear or ears. Mixed hearing loss occurs when the outer or middle ear can’t transmit sound properly to the inner ear. Additionally, the individual’s cochlea, auditory nerve or other inner ear structures that are responsible for interpreting sound and relaying it to the brain exhibit some degree of dysfunction. Mixed hearing loss results from numerous and diverse causes from both sensorineural and conductive loss.

Examples of how this occurs

Patient One frequently attends loud concerts and subsequently develops noise-induced hearing loss. She subsequently develops an ear infection. Patient Two experiences natural, age-related hearing loss. He then experiences a trauma that perforates his eardrum. Both people exemplify this condition.

How a combination of sensorineural and conductive losses impact hearing

Impairment ranges from slight to profound. Conductive hearing loss makes it difficult to understand speech. Sufferers have trouble picking up softer sounds, especially with competing background noises. If the individual has mostly sensorineural hearing loss, speech and other sounds may seem distorted. So even if the volume is loud enough, the individual may struggle deciphering words.

Treatment options

Some types of conductive hearing loss need an ENT specialist to treat the conductive component first. Afterwards a hearing care specialist will address the sensorineural hearing loss. This may include fitting with hearing aids.

What Should I Do If I Suspect Mixed Hearing Loss?

If you or someone you love is experiencing hearing loss or other hearing-related symptoms, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a licensed specialist who can properly assess your needs. We welcome you to make an appointmentt today.

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Hearing Loss Linked to Depression

Specialists believe that it is more than anecdotal evidence.
Audiologists and hearing specialists have long suspected a connection between hearing loss and depression based on years of anecdotal evidence. Until recently, however, there was limited scientific data to support this link. The few studies that existed showed mixed results, tenuous connections, and primarily focused on seniors or specific demographics. However, a 2014 study documented the connection between depression and hearing impairment with quantifiable data. It showed that women and individuals under 70 years of age in the U.S. are particularly susceptible to depression if they already have some degree of hearing loss.

About the research

The 2014 study, authored by Chuan-Ming Li, M.D., Ph.D., a researcher at the U.S. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, was published in JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. The study found a significant association between hearing loss and moderate to severe depression. Researchers showed that 5% of individuals without hearing loss had symptoms of depression, compared to 11% of individuals with hearing loss who also exhibited signs.

Who is most at risk of developing depression?

More than 18,000 adults responded to the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It required filling out a questionnaire with questions the researchers designed to reveal symptoms of melancholy. The research demonstrated the strongest connection between hearing deficits and depression in women age 18 and 69 years. The research did not show a correlation in men over age 70, only in women. This may be due to the fact that women, after the age of 65, begin losing the ability to hear higher frequencies. The brain needs these higher pitched sounds to comprehend speech in loud environments. A decrease in communication leads to loneliness and feeling left out.

Why are individuals with hearing loss more likely to experience depression?

People with hearing loss often express difficulty in communicating with family members, colleagues and friends. This can lead to the individual with hearing loss retreating from social life and isolating him- or herself. But treatment is effective in restoring relationships. If you have symptoms of hearing loss and sadness, contact your health care provider. If you are concerned about hearing loss, make an appointment for a free hearing assessment*.

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