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Hearing Loss and Women | Celebrating International Women’s Day

by Debbie Clason for Healthy Hearing

March 7, 2017 - Despite the obvious physical differences between men and women, we actually share many of the same health concerns. Heart disease and cancer account for 1.2 million deaths each year in the United States, and depression affects more than 350 million men and women worldwide.

According to the Hearing Loss Association of America, more than 46 million Americans report having some degree of hearing loss. Even though men are twice as likely to experience hearing loss as women, its ties to chronic diseases and medical conditions can be unique for women.

Top Five Health Concerns for Women

1. Heart Disease - According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women. Cardiovascular disease and stroke are responsible for one of every three women’s deaths each year. The AHA believes as many as 80 percent of these deaths could be prevented with lifestyle changes including smoking cessation, weight management and leading an active lifestyle.

If you have a family history of heart disease, you may already be monitoring your heart health. If not, your hearing health may be an indicator of impending cardiovascular problems. Researchers at Medical College in Milwaukee, Wisconsin found that audiogram patterns closely correlated to cerebrovascular and peripheral arterial disease. The study, published in the February 23, 2009 online issue of The Laryngoscope, found a significant association between low frequency hearing loss and cardiovascular disease and its risk factors. The findings led the authors to recommend that patients diagnosed with low frequency hearing loss be “regarded as at risk for cardiovascular events” and referred to the appropriate medical professionals.

2. Breast Cancer - While both men and women can develop breast cancer, the disease is much more common in women. According to the American Cancer Society, 231,840 women were diagnosed with new cases of invasive breast cancer in 2015.

Cancer of the ear, brain, breast, lung and kidney can lead to hearing loss. Certain medications used in cancer treatment, especially cisplatin chemotherapy, can also cause tinnitus and hearing loss. Medical professionals recommend having a baseline hearing and balance evaluation before you begin treatment with any ototoxic drugs. If you’re currently undergoing treatment for cancer, have your hearing monitored regularly and talk to your physician immediately if you notice any changes to your hearing health.

3. Osteoporosis - Osteoporosis means “porous bone” and occurs when the body loses too much, and/or produces too little, bone mass. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 10 million Americans have osteoporosis and eight million of them are women. Experts say that’s because women typically have smaller, thinner bones than men and experience a decrease in estrogen, a hormone that protects bones, as they approach menopause.

Those with osteoporosis are 76 percent more likely to develop sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSNHL), according to research published in the online April 16, 2015 issue of Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Other studies have found links to osteoporosis and gradual hearing loss, especially as it relates to the demineralization of the three bones of the middle ear. Bottom line? If you’ve been diagnosed with osteoporosis, pay close attention to your hearing health, too. Most cases of SSNHL can be resolved if treated within two to four weeks after hearing loss occurs.

4. Depression - Depression is a condition which affects more than 19 million American adults. According to Mental Health America, women experience depression at twice the rate of men due to developmental, genetic, hormonal and societal issues. It occurs most frequently in women between the ages of 25-44.

According to a study by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) and published in the April 2014 issue of JAMA’s Otolaryngology Head and Neck Surgery journal, those with hearing loss -- particularly women -- are twice as likely to develop depression than those without hearing loss.

Fortunately, those who seek treatment for their hearing loss often see significant improvements. A study conducted by the National Council on Aging found that hearing aid users reported enhanced quality of life, including in relationships at home, feelings about themselves, and life overall.

5. Autoimmune Diseases - According to information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, more women than men develop autoimmune diseases, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy cells. Examples of autoimmune diseases which have been associated with hearing loss include diabetes, anemia and rheumatoid arthritis.

Diabetes - approximately 11 percent of women in the United States have diabetes. Diabetics are twice as likely to develop hearing loss, possibly because high blood glucose levels damage the tiny blood vessels of the inner ear.

Anemia - A recent study by researchers at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine found anemic individuals were twice as likely to develop sensorineural hearing loss and combined sensorineural and conductive hearing loss than those without the blood disorder.

Rheumatoid Arthritis - this systemic inflammatory disease affects a higher percentage of women than men and a recent study concluded that those with RA are more likely to develop hearing loss. Researchers are still trying to understand the relationship between the two.

Women and Hearing Health

Being female also comes with unique physical changes, each of which can impact our sense of hearing.

Pregnancy - A small number of women experience sudden sensorineural hearing loss during pregnancy. Scientists hypothesize this is caused by changes in the cardiovascular, hematological and endocrine system, affecting the circulation in the cochlea. The condition is rare and most women regain their hearing after delivery.

Menopause - A decrease in estrogen levels may play a role in hearing loss among menopausal women, according to a study by Swedish researchers. They found women who do not take hormone replacement therapy were more likely to have poorer hearing than those who do.

As you can see, hearing health is closely related to many health conditions common among women. Hearing devices benefit cognitive function and enhance quality of life -- and research indicates women are more likely to seek treatment sooner and wear their hearing aids longer and on a more regular basis than our male counterparts. That’s good news. Take the first step: find a hearing healthcare professional you trust and commit to having your hearing evaluated on an annual basis.

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