As you might know by now, this is an entirely inaccurate representation. Hearing loss can occur across any age group; hearing impairment can manifest within any demographic. Even now, hearing loss affects an untold number of people worldwide, all in different ways.

That impact, however, is almost always negative. As many people who have unexpected hearing loss learn the hard way, it can cost you more than just your ears. It's very easy to forget just how much we rely on our sense of hearing to connect with the world, especially now.

And it's very easy to overlook the genuine harm it can cause.

Cognitive Decline

Many tend to view deafness as a disability within a silo, encapsulated in its own sphere and unassociated with other health problems. If only we were so lucky. Per biomedical firm Johns Hopkins Medicine, worsened cognitive function and long-term brain health can be an unpleasant side effect of hearing loss. 

What was previously dismissed as signs of aging such as dementia, confusion, or agitation may be linked to hearing impairment. While the human brain is fantastic at adapting to and compensating for sensory changes, hearing impairment is somewhat harder to overcome. There are a few theories as to why this is the case. 

  • The brain overexerts itself looking for sounds it thinks should be there with the sudden loss of hearing.  Because it's overexerting itself to such an extent, it doesn't work efficiently. You can only split your focus so much before you miss key details or forget important instructions. 
  • Because the brain’s auditory center receives less stimulation from the auditory nerves, the cells there begin to degrade. This can, in the long term, cause other areas of the brain to degrade more quickly.

Mental Health Struggles

Hearing loss of any kind is stressful and disorienting. Worse, it's accompanied by many unavoidable costs — and as we're sure you can attest, right now, none of us need more financial stressors added to the pot. Finally, being hard of hearing also lowers your chances of finding gainful employment, which can feel like a metaphorical sucker punch.

Readjustment is not easy on the hard of hearing person, nor on their families and friends. Some may even withdraw from your life, which is painful and diminishing. It can feel like you've been reduced from a human to a sentient disability, the millions of other unique things that make up who you are notwithstanding. 

Another factor is how challenging it can be to communicate with the people around you. Being unable to speak without difficulty is stressful. This, in turn, can lead to feelings of isolation — a small wonder, then, that studies have linked hearing loss to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses

Finally, being D/deaf during a pandemic is terrifying. Obtaining medical care, even in the emergency room, was already difficult. And embarrassingly, few mental health professionals have experience with D/deaf or hard of hearing clients. 

Although it’s not clear at the time of writing that these issues manifested because of hearing impairment or were simply exacerbated by its presence, there is a connection there.

Relationship Issues

We've gone over how hearing loss impacts your physical and emotional well-being, but it can also cause relationship problems. For instance, many D/deaf and hard of hearing individuals have reported marriages breaking down due to their disability, according to a study by Hearing Review. People can quickly become frustrated by having to repeat themselves or with the feeling that they aren't being listened to.

Left unaddressed, those feelings can result in an irreparable fracture. 

Professional relationships may also become strained, especially if the hard of hearing person begins isolating themself. It creates a ripple effect; eventually, people get frustrated and give up. Their hard of hearing colleague is no longer invited to social events, and people stop interacting with them in the workplace. 

Hearing Influences More Than Your Ears

Whether the onset is sudden or gradual, hearing loss can come with many layers of physical, emotional, and social side effects, almost like an onion. Adjustment is a complex, difficult process, which for some people might take years. If you're experiencing it yourself, consider finding a support group —if nothing else, for the reminder that you need not struggle alone.