The hearing aid industry has long promoted the ideas that good hearing promotes good mental health and that hearing aids help ensure this relationship.  The overall concept is that restoring good hearing to our patients helps build good communication, which enables building of strong social relationships, which helps keep depression at bay, which contributes positively to measures of patients’ Quality of Life (QOL).   Read on to find out just how important staying connected to life really is.


Good hearing keeps you in the game, but how much is good social activity worth?  Various studies have linked social connections to better health and longer life, but it hasn’t been clear whether healthy people were more socially active to begin with.  A  review of 148 studies from researchers at Brigham Young University looked at healthy people who were followed for 7.5 years, on average.  The study(ies) controlled for the health of the subjects.

The results showed that the value of social interaction was stronger and than you might thing.  Based on the data from these studies,  weak social ties in your community are a major risk factor to your health,  at least as harmful to your health as smoking, lack of exercise or obesity. For instance:

  1.  You have a 50% lower risk of dying if you have close friends, family or work relationships.  
  2.  Poor socialization threatens your health as much as if you were an alcoholic or were smoking a pack a day. 
  3.  Poor social connections are harder on your health than not exercising, or being obese. 

The study concludes that medical checkups should screen patients for social well being, with the goal of enhancing social connections. 

It goes almost without saying that medical checkups should also screen patients for hearing loss, to ensure that patients have a good shot at maintaining social well being.  We think and hope readers will  agree that hearing well is an essential ingredient for developing and maintaining successful social networks.  




American Academy of Audiology.  Untreated hearing loss linked to depression, social isolation in seniors.  Aud Today, 11:4, 1999.

National Council on the Aging (NCOA): The consequences of untreated hearing loss in older adults. Conducted by the Seniors Research Group. Supported through a grant from the Hearing Industries Association. May 1999.

Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB,Layton JB (2010) Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Med 7(7): e1000316. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000316

Parker-Pope T. (2010). A new risk factor: Your social life. NYTimes, 7/28/2010.   



Everybody knows by now that smoking is bad for you, and many also know that “second-hand” smoke may harm those around them.  The following study ups the ante by demonstrating that those who don’t smoke may have their hearing compromised by others smoking in their environments.  The study was done on teenagers, but that doesn’t mean the harm is limited to that group.  Think about your grandkids …. and your spouses.


Smoke and the Stria Vascularis


Hearing loss is associated with exposure to cigarette smoke in children, according to a study completed at New York University. Researchers measured the hearing of 1533 teenagers and measured  the levels of cotinine in their blood samples. Cotinine is a metabolite of nicotine (the word is an anagram of nicotine).  It’s used as a biomarker to measure exposure to second hand smoke:  the level of cotinine in blood correlates with exposure to tobacco smoke.

Based on cotinine levels, the study found 799 teenagers who were exposed to second hand smoke, and  754 teenagers who were in smoke-free environments.  Between those two groups, they found that low frequency sensorineural hearing loss occurred as much as 17% of the time in the high cotinine group.

The reason that tobacco smoke may cause hearing loss is not fully understood, but the article suggests that the path of destruction may be lie within the tiniest blood vessels of the body, which are found in abundance in our inner ears , especially in a structure called the stria vascularis that is essential for maintain hearing acuity.  Blood flow through such vessels is known to be reduced by tobacco.


Most are Not Aware


Most of the teenagers with hearing loss did not know they had hearing problems.  This may seem surprising, but awareness depends on the severity of hearing loss.  Just 3% of the teenagers exposed to second hand smoke had hearing losses in excess of 25 dB.  It’s not very different than with adults who have hearing loss.  In most cases, adults are unaware of their hearing loss (and often deny it) for some time as it progresses, even after others around them are aware of it for several years.  As this study’s chief investigator stated, “Most kids, about 85 percent, were unaware of their hearing loss. You can’t rely on self-reports.

The take home here is that everyone should have a baseline audiogram to ensure that their hearing is not compromised.  Thereafter, it is wise to do comparison testing every few years — depending on baseline results — to ensure that if changes occur in hearing, they are detected and addressed appropriately.




Lalwani, A.K. et al. (July 2011). Secondhand Smoke and Sensorineural Hearing Loss in Adolescents Archives of Otolaryngology — Head and Neck Surgery, 37(7). 655-662. 


Photo courtesy of cha cha