Doctor speaks with patient about medical conditions related to hearing loss and tinnitus.

Aging is one of the most common indicators of hearing loss and let’s face it, as hard as we might try, we can’t escape aging. But did you realize that hearing loss has also been connected to between
loss problems
that are treatable, and in many cases, can be avoided? Here’s a look at several cases that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that evaluated over 5,000 American adults revealed that people who had been diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to suffer from mild or greater hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. It was also determined by investigators that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from hearing loss than people with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) found that the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing was consistent, even when controlling for other variables.

So it’s pretty well determined that diabetes is associated with a higher risk of hearing loss. But why should diabetes put you at increased danger of suffering from loss of hearing? The reason isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is linked to a number of health problems, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically harmed. One hypothesis is that the the ears could be likewise affected by the disease, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it may also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but most notably, it discovered that those with unchecked diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. By the same token, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health issues. And while you may not realize that your hearing would affect your possibility of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 revealed a considerable connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Examining a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with slight hearing loss the relationship held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have fallen within the past year.

Why should you fall because you are having trouble hearing? There are a number of reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Though this research didn’t delve into what had caused the participant’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) might be one issue. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to your surroundings, it might be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing could possibly lessen your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have found that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been pretty consistently revealed. Gender is the only variable that appears to make a difference: If you’re a man, the connection between loss of hearing and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears not to mention the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals who have high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they are hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your own pulse.) The primary theory behind why high blood pressure might accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may potentially be damaged by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you think you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss may put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also discovered, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the danger of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, though a less statistically significant one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of a person with no loss of hearing; severe loss of hearing raises the danger by 4 times.

But, even though researchers have been able to document the link between cognitive decline and hearing loss, they still aren’t positive as to why this occurs. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds around you, you may not have very much energy left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social situations become much more difficult when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.

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