Will my sight be affected by my hearing loss?
Does hearing loss affect vision? Absolutely. If you lose your hearing, your sight becomes much more important because any loss of visual acuity makes it harder to read lips and use sign language.
Conversely, those with visual impairment rely heavily on their sense of hearing to assist with everyday activities such as maintaining their balance and avoiding obstacles while walking.
For example, research shows that blind people are better at identifying the source of a sound than people who can see.
How exactly are vision and hearing linked?
The brain uses inputs from both the eyes and ears to make sense of the world, so the loss of one can impact its ability to interpret signals from the other.
A 2016 study from UCLA found that the amount that hearing and vision interact varies by the individual as well as the situation, and combining the senses may help in certain tasks.
What causes vision and hearing loss?
A variety of factors:
GENETIC CONDITIONS: There are a variety of genetic conditions that can lead to a child being born deaf or blind or developing hearing or sight loss over time.
Deafness and blindness themselves are hereditary, and conditions such as Down syndrome and Cogan’s syndrome are associated with impaired hearing and/or vision.
Usher syndrome, which affects less than 20 people per 100,000, is the most common condition that affects both hearing and vision, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD). About half of all hereditary deaf-blindness cases are attributed to Usher syndrome.
BIRTH DEFECTS AND PREMATURE BIRTH: Infants who are born before their ears or eyes have fully developed may have long-term problems with their vision or hearing.
ILLNESS: There are some diseases that can result in hearing loss, vision loss or both.
Complications from chicken pox or measles, for example, can result in hearing or vision loss. Meningitis, brain tumors, diabetes and certain cancers can also cause hearing loss, vision loss or both.
MEDICATIONS: Some drugs — including common antibiotics, pain relievers and cholesterol medications — can cause short- or long-term hearing or vision loss.
INJURIES: Brain injuries and physical injuries to the eyes or inner ears can result in permanent vision or hearing loss.
AGE: It’s normal for both hearing and vision to decline with age, a result of wear and tear as well as the bevy of additional health conditions that affect the elderly. While all five senses tend to decline over the years, deterioration of sight and hearing are often the most acute.
HAVE YOU EXPERIENCED ANY VISION LOSS? Find an eye doctor near you and schedule an exam.
How are vision and hearing affected by age?
Vision loss is common in older adults as they age. Sometimes it’s caused by an easily treated condition, such as presbyopia (corrected with reading glasses) or cataracts (corrected with minor surgery).
Other diseases, like macular degeneration and glaucoma, occur with age, but present more serious problems.
It’s also normal for older adults to experience hearing loss, and to feel like they can hear better with one ear than with the other.
According to the NIDCD, one in three Americans, ages 65-74, experiences hearing loss, along with nearly half of those 75 and older.
Age-related hearing loss often reflects long-term exposure to noise, but it can also be due to conditions like high blood pressure or diabetes.
How else does hearing or vision loss affect a person?
The loss of hearing and sight have been linked individually to lower social interaction and higher rates of depression, cognitive decline and dementia.
Hearing and vision loss also can make such conditions worse, since it can be harder to make sense of your surroundings without full use of all your senses.
New research shows that interventions that can improve sight or hearing may also have an impact on cognitive function.
One British study found that patients who had cataract surgery had slower rates of cognitive decline, and another study found that people with hearing aids showed a slower loss of episodic memory scores.
How eye exams can diagnose and slow vision loss
While hearing and vision loss present individual challenges to those affected, the loss of one sense can have a profound impact on the other.
That’s why it’s so important for everyone — and especially older adults — to make regular visits to vision and hearing specialists.
Medical professionals may be able to help slow the progression of your loss or provide tools or interventions to mitigate any damage.
WHEN WAS YOUR LAST EYE EXAM? Find an eye doctor near you and schedule an appointment.
Page updated January 2020