Gone are the days where issues of sensorineural hearing loss were attributed solely to malfunctions of auditory mechanisms such as the cochlea or auditory nerve. In the last few decades, consistent research has established a clear and relevant link between chronic medical conditions and degraded hearing.
As further studies continue to strengthen this link, the shape of audiological care is changing. Audiologists are moving away from a one-sided perspective on hearing health that only takes the workings of the ear into consideration.
Formal education, professional training, and practical application of audiological care are becoming more holistic in its approach where existing chronic medical conditions are considered as factors that pay a role in the cause or exacerbation of sensorineural hearing loss.
Medical History Indicators of Comorbidity
A significant component to holistic hearing care is capturing an accurate medical history of the patient so that the proper data can be incorporated into a hearing evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. The cochlea is fed solely by an end article without secondary circulation options. Therefore, it can easily be impaired by vascular disease and other conditions that impact the circulatory system.
At any hearing evaluation, an audiologist should have a structured, routine method for collecting important indicator data of impact to the hearing mechanism by chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, etc.
Currently, there is no exhaustive list that details all conditions that can interfere with the hearing mechanism. But if sensorineural hearing loss is identified, which in itself is a chronic condition, comorbid with another chronic condition, an odds ratio metric can be used to determine the relationship or level of codependence two existing chronic conditions have with each other.
Conditions with a high odds ratio such as vascular diseases like heart disease, high blood pressure, kidney disease, or neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s disease indicate a pathology associated with sensorineural hearing loss.
Changes In The Profession and Legislative Movements
Because such intricacy is involved in connecting sensorineural hearing loss with other medical conditions, overwhelming professional support has been thrown towards the Doctor of Audiology movement to provide professionals with more comprehensive medical training instead of just isolating treatment and expertise solely to the ear and hearing mechanism.
As a result, audiologists can feel more empowered to speak on a peer-to-peer level with medical professionals responsible for different components of patient care to help in the development and implementation of a holistic treatment plan when it comes to two interrelated chronic conditions where one is related to sensorineural hearing loss.
Likewise, legislative initiatives are currently underway to expand the access of Medicare recipients to quality audiological care. The Audiology Patient Choice Act (APCA) enables recipients to access audiologists directly to receive diagnoses and treatment of hearing disorders.
With these expected changes in medical care for millions of seniors, the responsibility of audiologists to provide holistic care for interrelated conditions such as hearing loss and vascular disease becomes that much greater. More communication between audiologists and medical professionals such as primary care physicians will become necessary for the best possible treatment of patients suffering from two or more chronic conditions, as changes in one condition can indicate changes in the other.