Four ways hearing loss affects overall health

November 12, 2021

​Studies have shown that hearing loss affects overall health. While often considered a normal part of aging, hearing loss can be avoided by doing some simple things to protect your ears.

​According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, one in eight people in the United States age 12 or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing exams. If you or someone you know has trouble hearing, you may have experienced frustration when carrying on a conversation, but did you know that hearing loss affects overall health?

Here are four ways our hearing and our health are connected.

  1. Falls and injuries: Our ears play an important part in spatial awareness and maintaining balance. Because of this, people with hearing loss are at increased risk of falling. In fact, a Johns Hopkins study found that a person with a mild hearing loss was three times more likely to have a history of falling and that likelihood increased as their hearing got worse.
  2. Dementia: The Johns Hopkins study also found that mild hearing loss doubled the risk for developing dementia, while moderate hearing loss tripled the risk. People with severe hearing impairment were five times more likely to develop dementia.
  3. Depression: Because hearing loss can make conversation difficult, some people who have trouble hearing may feel lonely or isolated, which can lead to depression.
  4. Heart disease: Decreased hearing can even be a sign of heart disease because hardening or narrowing of the arteries can restrict blood flow to the ear.

What you can do

Hearing loss affects all age groups and there are many causes, including illness, trauma, abnormal growths in the ear, and excessive noise. While some causes are beyond our control, there are simple things you can do to help prevent loud noises from permanently damaging your hearing. Generally, you should consider a noise loud enough to damage your hearing if

  • you need to raise your voice to be understood by someone standing nearby;
  • you can't hear what people near you are saying;
  • it hurts your ears; or
  • you have a buzzing or ringing sound in your ears or muffled hearing afterwards.

To help avoid damaging your hearing don't listen to music at more than 60 percent of the maximum volume, wear earplugs during loud events and activities, and move away from sources of noise. If you use earphones or headphones, be sure to take a break for at least five minutes every hour.

In addition to protecting your ears from loud noises, adults should have a baseline hearing test. Your doctor can do this during your annual preventive exam and refer you for additional testing if needed. If your test shows no hearing loss, you should be tested every 10 years up to age 50, and every three years after that.

When hearing loss is severe, your doctor may recommend a hearing aid. If you're enrolled in the PPO, EPO, or HDHP through the Board of Pensions, your coverage includes a benefit of up to $2,500 every three years for a hearing aid and fitting. Regular plan provisions (deductibles and coinsurance) apply.

Retired members, their spouses, and surviving spouses may be eligible for a need-based Retiree Medical Grant of up to $2,500 every three years, to help with the cost of hearing aids.

*Those enrolled in Triple-S or GeoBlue should consult their plan for information about covered and noncovered services.