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Five Surprising Risk Factors for Hearing Loss

Diabetes

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that 430 million people have hearing loss worldwide. In Australia, one in every six people suffers from hearing loss. 

It’s a common misconception that hearing loss only occurs once you are over the age of 60. However, that’s not the case, as many risk factors can lead to hearing loss. 

Today, we will be discussing five risk factors for hearing loss that may surprise you. 

1. Diabetes 

A study conducted in the United States found that individuals with diabetes were more than twice as likely to have mild to moderate hearing loss compared to those without diabetes. 

Further research supported these findings, saying that people with diabetes are more likely to have hearing loss, no matter their age. Currently, there are 1.8 million people who have diabetes in Australia.

Adults with prediabetes, where the blood glucose is above normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis, have a 30% higher hearing loss rate than those with blood sugar levels in the normal range. 

Although it’s still not completely understood why diabetes impacts hearing levels, researchers have long suspected that high blood glucose levels cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear.

The hair cells in the inner ear (cochlea) are responsible for translating the noise our ears collect into electrical impulses, which are then sent along the auditory nerve to the brain to interpret. If the hair cells have been damaged, it is permanent as they cannot be regenerated. 

2. Ototoxic Medicines 

Medicines and substances poisonous to the cochlea and auditory nerve are known as ototoxic. 

One of the most common sources of ototoxicity are agents used in cancer treatments, such as platinum-based chemotherapy, radiation, certain antibiotics and loop diuretics. While cancer treatment aims to prolong the patient’s life, it comes with the risk of developing hearing loss and tinnitus

Although doctors do their best to mitigate ototoxic exposure during treatment. However, when aggressive treatment is required, hearing tests should be frequent before, during and after treatment. 

Ear Syringing

3. Ear Syringing 

The ear is designed to be self-cleaning, which is why ear wax exists. Wax problems only arise when the ear begins to narrow due to hearing aids, earplugs, or cotton buds.

When ear wax becomes impacted, a GP or medical practitioner’s most common way to remove it is by ear syringing. This process involves the gentle irrigation of the ear canal using sterile water or saline solution. 

Although the process is used to remove ear wax, there are potential complications including 

  • Abrasion to the skin of the ear canal
  • Tympanic membrane perforation
  • Tinnitus
  • Dizziness or vertigo
  • Infection

Patients who develop these complications may need to seek audiology treatments or onward referral to an ENT Specialist. While the process of ear syringing is supposed to remove ear wax, it can come with the associated risk of developing hearing loss. 

4. Ear Candling 

Much like ear syringing, ear candling is used as a remedy for many conditions, such as ear wax removal, treating ear infections, reducing tinnitus intrusion and relief from vertigo.

Although a practitioner usually performs the process of ear candling, you can purchase ear candles and do it at home. The process of ear candling involves placing a hollow candle into the external auditory canal. The candle is then lit and burned for 15 minutes, with a brown waxy substance left in the candle stub at completion. 

A scientific review of ear candling outlined two main theories of how this process might work:

  • The burning candle creates a vacuum that draws wax out of the ear
  • The ear wax heats up, melts and move out of the ear canal in the days post-candling

The researchers conducted a clinical trial to disprove the two theories above by performing ear candling with otoendoscopy photographs taken before and after the procedure.

The photos showed that no ear wax was removed, and the candle wax was deposited into the external auditory canals. The researchers concluded that ear candling was associated with considerable hearing loss risks, and there was no evidence to suggest that ear candling is an effective treatment for any condition. 

Smoking

5. Smoking

There are many common health risks associated with smoking, such as cancer, lung disease, teeth problems and diabetes. 

However, one of the lesser-known risks associated with smoking is hearing loss. A research team from Japan found that smokers were 60% more likely to develop hearing loss than non-smokers. 

However, those exposed to secondhand smoke were not exempt from the risk of developing hearing loss, with the results showing they were still 28% more likely to have hearing problems. 

Therefore, modifying your smoking habits or quitting altogether will prevent hearing loss or delay age-related declines in hearing sensitivity. 

In Summary 

While age and noise exposure are known as the main risk factors for hearing loss, they are not the only risk factors. 

This article has highlighted the other, more surprising risk factors of hearing loss, including diabetes, ear syringing, ear candling, smoking and ototoxic chemicals. 

If you have been exposed to any of these risk factors or think you may be developing hearing loss, it’s best to get your hearing checked at your nearest Attune Hearing clinic to rule anything out. 

You can book online on our website or contact us on 1300 736 702.

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