Following on from our last blog, where we looked at the impacts of diet, smoking, alcohol and sleep, I wanted to delve into another possible cause of hearing problems.
Stress is something we’ve grown all-too-familiar with in the UK. A recent survey by the Mental Health Foundation found that nearly three quarters of UK adults have felt so stressed at some point over the last year they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
This is a quite horrible statistic. Especially when you think of the many negative effects of stress – everything from feeling short of breath to powerful migraines and digestive problems. But could stress be taking a toll on our ears as well?
Let’s look at the science
While stress gets a uniformly negative press these days, it’s worth mentioning that it’s actually a vital part of our biology. For our ancestors, having an in-built ‘fight or flight’ mode – giving them a boost of adrenaline and a briefly elevated heart rate – could mean the difference between making it home to the family cave or being a tiger’s lunch. The problem for us modern humans is that this ancient biological mechanism gets triggered every time we’re stuck in traffic on the M25. There’s no tiger to fight and no safe-haven to which we can ‘fly’. So we just sit in our cars, seething quietly to Radio 4.
What does all this have to do with hearing? I recently wrote a piece about the importance of good circulation for hearing health. Over time, stress can hinder blood circulation and lead to problems such as obesity and high blood pressure. In turn, these conditions reduce oxygen flow and could result in irreparable damage to the delicate ear hairs which are vital for hearing.
This reduction of oxygen to your ears could almost certainly result in lasting damage to your hearing. Just to rub salt into the wounds, anxiety can also cause short-term hearing issues. Although thankfully this type of hearing loss is only temporary. If you ever experience hearing loss at a moment of peak stress, you should find things return to normal as your stress levels come down. However, at the time it can be quite frightening and elevate your anxiety even further.
Stress and hearing problems – a vicious cycle
As an audiologist, I’ve never heard a client cite stress as a cause of their own hearing problems. However, many people talk to me about just the opposite: that coming to terms with a hearing impairment causes them a great deal of stress in their everyday life.
On top of missing out on things such as listening to music, talking with friends and enjoying the sounds of nature, many people spend several years battling with denial, self-doubt, and even feelings of bereavement as their hearing starts to fade.
All that stress can then have a negative effect on your hearing, which in turn causes yet more stress. It’s a classic vicious cycle.
What can we do about stress?
Stress is a difficult beast to manage, day to day. But the medical professions are becoming increasingly aware of the negative impacts stress plays on all parts of our life. That’s why more doctors now recommend yoga sessions and mindfulness alongside prescriptions for medication, exercise and diet.
At Sevenoaks Hearing, we take the view that it’s better to treat the person not the problem. I would echo the view that seeking any way to reduce your personal stress levels is a worthwhile pursuit. Whether that means practising your downward-facing dog or avoiding predictable stressful situations such as the motorway at rush hour.
We also use technology to help our clients manage hearing loss in a low-stress way. For example, having recently become a Roger Certified Partner, we’re now one of the few hearing clinics to offer technologies such as table microphones that make it easier to hear in potentially stressful environments such as work meetings, or discrete ‘pen’ microphones that allow you to direct your hearing in noisy environments.
The social side of hearing is also very important to us. Did you know that in Japan, a country famed for its citizens’ longevity, it’s common for many generations to live together under one roof? This sense of cohesion and respect for elders is arguably one of the main reasons Japanese people tend to enjoy richer and healthier lives for longer. While we may not be able to change the fabric of British culture, we can all make an effort to stay in touch with our older relatives and plan activities that are truly age-inclusive.
No matter how you get there, cutting stress out of your life can have a huge impact on your health, hearing and wellbeing. Seeing as April is Stress Awareness Month, now is the perfect time to make a change.
About Sevenoaks Hearing
At Sevenoaks Hearing, we provide a bespoke hearing service, using state-of-the-art technology to provide an accurate diagnosis and an effective solution. As we are independent of any manufacturer, we can also provide the best solution for your lifestyle. Find out about our hearing assessments and other treatment services.
Written by Matt Cannon, Lead Audiologist at Sevenoaks Hearing. Visit our independent hearing centres in Sevenoaks, Banstead and East Grinstead or book an appointment now.