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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss clues and let’s face it, try as we might, aging can’t be escaped. But did you know that hearing loss can lead to between
loss concerns
that are treatable, and in many cases, avoidable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which revealed that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to suffer from some amount of hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. The researchers also found that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, people with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % to suffer from loss of hearing than people with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) determined that there was a persistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while when all other variables are accounted for.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is quite well demonstrated. But why should diabetes put you at increased danger of suffering from loss of hearing? The reason isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is connected to a number of health concerns, and notably, can result in physical harm to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the the ears could be similarly affected by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But overall health management may be the culprit. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but particularly, it revealed that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are concerned that you might be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to speak to a doctor and get your blood sugar tested. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing checked if you’re having a hard time hearing also.

2: Falling

OK, this is not really a health problem, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can start a cascade of health problems. And though you may not think that your hearing could impact your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study uncovered a significant link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with minor loss of hearing the link held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the previous 12 months.

Why should you fall because you are having problems hearing? There are quite a few reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Although this research didn’t delve into what had caused the participant’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) could be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you may be paying less attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that managing hearing loss could possibly lessen your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been seen fairly persistently, even when controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be gender: If you’re a male, the connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears not to mention the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why people who have high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is ultimately their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) The primary theory for why high blood pressure can accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may potentially be injured by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you suspect you’re suffering with hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia might be higher with hearing loss. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with just minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which followed subjects over more than a decade found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more likely it was that they would develop dementia. (They also uncovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the danger of someone who doesn’t have loss of hearing; one’s danger is nearly quintupled with significant hearing loss.

It’s alarming information, but it’s important to note that while the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well recognized, scientists have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so strongly linked. If you can’t hear very well, it’s overwhelming to socialize with people so the theory is you will avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In essence, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have much energy left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social scenarios become much more confusing when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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