Our ears might account for a small percentage of our actual bodies, but our hearing health is integral to our overall well-being. Despite the fact that our hearing health is incredibly important to our bodies, much of hearing healthcare is done in isolation from the rest of our medical care.
For decades, most of our hearing healthcare was only done by hearing specialists, but now, many medical professionals are beginning to understand the importance of the ear as an aspect of overall health. This transition is long-awaited but is gaining significant traction as we learn more about the connection between chronic diseases and sensorineural hearing loss.
Holistic Health Care
An attempt to look at hearing health as a component of whole-body health is a central tenet of holistic healthcare. Essentially, holistic health care is focused on identifying and treating comorbidities, which is when two or more medical conditions exist at the same time. By identifying and treating these comorbidities, medical providers hope they can better care for a patient’s overall health, as they are looking at medical conditions not as isolated occurrences, but as byproducts of issues in codependent bodily systems.
Holistic health care might seem too complicated for matters of the ear, but essentially, a holistic approach to hearing healthcare follows six simple steps:
Step One: Initial Evaluation
As with pretty much all medical issues we may encounter in our lives, the first step toward healing is to be evaluated by a medical professional. Generally speaking, when the issue clearly involves some ear or hearing-related problem, the initial evaluation is done by a hearing healthcare professional.
This initial evaluation by a hearing healthcare professional usually involves a hearing test to determine hearing loss. If hearing loss is indeed present, then the hearing healthcare professional will often analyze the test results to see if the hearing loss is sensorineural in nature.
Step Two: Obtain A Proper Patient History
Although some conditions may be diagnosed solely on the presence of certain signs and symptoms, much of a differential diagnosis involves taking a quality patient history. This is because many conditions present similarly, so they can be difficult to distinguish without first knowing more about the patient in question.
In the field of holistic healthcare, medical professionals are particularly concerned about a patient’s history of chronic ailments, like heart disease, high blood pressure, strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, or obesity. From a holistic healthcare perspective, proper identification of these chronic ailments can be critical for patients with audiological issues as they may be linked.
Step Three: Hearing Health And Comorbidities
The third step in a holistic approach to hearing healthcare is to determine if a patient has both hearing loss and a chronic condition. Although not all chronic conditions will have a direct effect on one’s hearing health, many chronic conditions can have a serious impact on one’s ability to recover from injuries or illnesses, which can negatively affect on one’s hearing health.
For example, many vascular issues, like myocardial infarctions (aka heart attacks) or cerebrovascular accidents (aka strokes) involve some sort of bleeding or clotting in the arteries and veins, which can have a huge impact on one’s hearing health. Thus, understanding a patient’s particular medical history can be critical in accurately identifying the source of their hearing healthcare issues.
Step Four: Perform An Odds Ratio
An “odds ratio,” colloquially known as an OR, is a metric used to identify if two or more chronic conditions are linked through some underlying relationship or if they’re just coincidental. An OR of 1 essentially means that it is unlikely that two conditions have a connection while an OR greater than 1 means there is some increased probability of having a given condition if you already have another specific condition. An OR of 2, for example, means that a patient is twice as likely to have condition B if they already have condition A.
Step Five: Health Professional Readiness
If a patient is identified as having a chronic condition, in addition to having a hearing health issue, the hearing healthcare provider must then determine their own readiness for helping this patient. While a hearing healthcare provider is trained to treat and deal with hearing-related issues, they may not have the proper training and experience necessary to assess the relationship between comorbidities. This means that a hearing healthcare provider must decide if they want to be part of the chain of healthcare professionals that need to be involved in a patient’s holistic medical care.
Step Six: Creating A Healthcare Team
If a hearing healthcare provider identifies hearing loss, comorbidity, and is ready to take on the challenge of holistic medical care, then they can start working with the patient to assemble a team of medical professionals. These healthcare providers must all work together to manage comorbidities related to a patient’s hearing loss in the hopes of bettering their overall health.