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Though hearing loss is an invisible condition, it is difficult to ignore. The consequences of untreated hearing loss have been found to affect numerous areas of our lives, from our earning power to our interpersonal relationships. For example, studies have found that people with untreated hearing loss have lower earning power than their colleagues with normal hearing and colleagues who treat their hearing loss with the use of hearing aids. Similarly, people who treat their hearing loss tend to have stronger relationships with their loved ones, as communication is made easier with the use of hearing aids.
Another area that is often explored in relation to hearing loss is personal safety. A recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association points to links between untreated hearing loss and an increased risk for falls and accidents.
Study: Self-Reported Hearing Difficulty and Risk of Accidental Injury in US Adults, 2007 to 2015
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “unintentional injuries accounted for 5 percent of all deaths in 2011 and 28 million emergency room visits in 2013. While many factors contribute to accidental injuries, the relationship between them and certain sensory impairments, such as hearing loss, are noteworthy.”
With accidental injuries listed as a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States, researchers in the field of otology wondered whether hearing loss may be linked with an increased risk for such injuries. Researchers from the University of California-Irvine and Harvard Medical School’s Department of Otology and Laryngology asked the question: “Is hearing difficulty associated with risk of accidental injuries?”
Sifting through cross-sectional data from the National Health Interview Survey of 6.6 million US adults who experienced accidental injuries (between 2007 and 2015), researchers found a definitive link. While 1 in 6 adults considered their hearing to be “excellent” or “good,” the risk of injury increased “with degree of self-perceived hearing difficulty, with those with ‘a lot of trouble’ hearing being twice as likely to have incurred an accidental injury.”
To break down the results, researchers found that of the 232.2 million US adults surveyed, 120.2 million people reported that their hearing was “less than excellent.” Among this group, accidental injuries occurred in 2.8% of respondents. Injuries occurred in work and leisure settings alike. Furthermore, odd for injury increased according to the degree of severity of hearing loss experienced by respondents. In conclusion, researchers reported that “hearing difficulty is significantly associated with accidental injury, especially injury related to work or leisure.”
According to Dr. Neil Bhattacharyya, an otolaryngologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and senior author on this study, “Our data suggests a strong relationship between poorer hearing and accidental injury, especially since the rate of injury increased steadily as the reported hearing worsened as well as the odds ratio for injury. We found that leisure-related injuries were particularly interesting since individuals may not consider that a high-risk occasion for injury and may be paying even less attention to their hearing difficulties. Ultimately, hearing loss may be more consequential than one might think.”
How are Hearing Loss and Accidental Injuries Linked?
While the study provides us data on the existing link between self-reported hearing abilities and personal injury, it does not give us an explanation on how they are linked. Other studies have enlightened us on the processes that occur with untreated hearing loss.
Hearing loss happens in your brain, and when it is left untreated, your brain must take on a heavier cognitive load to make sense of muffled sound signals. In addition to contributing to an increased risk for accidents, researchers at Johns Hopkins have found that hearing loss leads to an increased risk for developing dementia. When the brain carries a heavier cognitive load, resources otherwise used for other processes in the brain are drained to make sense of sound.
Additionally, because hearing loss interferes with directionality and locating sound, difficulties with hearing could contribute to poor spatial reasoning. Aside from personal injuries, untreated hearing loss could extend to others around you – for example, driving and not being aware of sounds in traffic.
Treating Hearing Loss
Dr. Bhattacharyya points out: “Many adults believe that hearing loss, particularly due to aging, is ‘normal’ and therefore of little consequence other than, perhaps, social difficulties. We are motivated to create [the above study on accidental injury] since hearing is a special sense that plays an important role in warning us of danger in our surroundings. We wanted to see if poorer hearing ability was related to accidental injuries.”
A solution: “Increased awareness about hearing difficulty and its proper screening and management may assist in decreasing accidental injury.”
To schedule a consultation and hearing test, contact us at Lifestyle Hearing Solutions today.