Neurology Insights

Hearing Loss & Neurology: The Connection

Man with hearing loss holding his glasses with a struggling look on his face

We rarely give thought to our ability to hear. But sound is such a big part of our lives! Between social interactions, music, podcasts, and audiobooks, hearing is a crucial part of how we consume and interpret information in our everyday lives. Fortunately, hearing loss doesn’t have to be the end of the road.

The Auditory Nervous System Connection

The Auditory Nervous System is a part of the central nervous system – also known as the central command center – located in the brain (specifically the brainstem). This system is responsible for transforming neural impulses into the auditory information we recognize as “sound.” This system transmits signals and information throughout the body via the spinal cord and controls everything from thoughts to speech, action, and hearing ability.

How we hear sound is a process that occurs instantaneously and connects the vibrations to our surroundings and objects, and people.

If something disrupts this connection in any way, this can cause symptoms of hearing loss. These symptoms may include pressure in the eardrum, partial hearing loss or distortion, and ear-ringing sensations.

Why Do I Have Difficulty Hearing?

Hearing loss can occur due to several factors, such as inflammation within the inner ear, tumors, or disease.

Some of the most common causes of hearing loss are:

  • Age-related wear & tear
  • Disease: Diseases such as elevated cholesterol, hypertension, and diabetes decrease blood supply to the auditory system
  • Ear disorder: Meniere’s disease is a disorder that prevents the inner ear from generating sound recognition
  • Sound Damage: Prolonged high sound exposure causes damage to inner ear structures.
  • Physical damage: Trauma or injury such as a stuck ear swab or head trauma involving fractures within the ear
  • Balance-related conditions such as vertigo can create calcium deposits in the inner ear affecting balance and hearing
  • Neurologic Hearing loss: Auditory neuropathy such as SNHL (sensorineural hearing loss)

Do I Have Hearing Issues?

If you are experiencing hearing loss in the form of muffled sounds, ear ringing, difficulty understanding words, or notice yourself turning up the volume higher than usual, these may be warning symptoms. In the event of these symptoms or underlying chronic conditions, it is always recommended to see your doctor at the first signs of hearing decline.

An ENT specialist can establish a hearing test, run scans, and provide treatment for general hearing loss.

Is Loss of Hearing Permanent?

Hearing loss is often permanent if the auditory nerve is damaged. Some treatments and surgeries can restore hearing if a patient has hearing loss from earwax buildup, fluid, or a punctured eardrum.

When the auditory nerve is damaged, this is referred to as SNHL (sensorineural hearing loss), and when hearing loss is caused by buildup, fluid, or a punctured eardrum, it is referred to as conductive hearing loss.

A neurologist will use brainstem auditory evoked potential testing, MRI, laboratory tests, and more for neurologically related hearing loss to diagnose and manage a patient’s symptoms.

Tips for Preserving Healthy Hearing

A decline in hearing ability can bring challenges as well as emotions.

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to preserve your sense of hearing over time.

  • Avoid Loud Noise when attending concerts, within proximity to construction or loud machinery, and more. If working in these environments, hearing protection is crucial. Exposure for an extended period may result in irreversible damage. You can use sound-blocking earplugs as an effective way to minimize sound and prevent damage.
  • Stay Mindful of Volume check headphone volume periodically to avoid exceeding recommended limits. In areas where sound is enhanced, consider noise-blocking headphones to reduce the risk of increasing sound
  • Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle when managing chronic conditions. Unhealthy habits such as smoking and excessive drinking can prevent and restrict blood flow to the auditory nervous system, which can worsen conditions and expedite deterioration

A message from Dr. Kandel

“It may be surprising to learn that individuals are much more impaired with decreased hearing than with decreased vision. And yet, many patients are quite resistant to considering hearing aids. I explain to my patients that people always wear “vision aids” (glasses) without a second thought. So, if you catch yourself turning your head to use your “good ear” to hear, then it is absolutely time to do something about it!

Here’s listening to you, kid.

Feel free to share this with the people in your life who may benefit from this information! For more insights on neurology, check out our weekly tips on our Neurology Office Facebook page.

“To Cure Sometimes, To Heal Often, To Comfort Always”

Neurology Office, Joseph Kandel M.D. and Associates

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