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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss indicators and let’s be truthful, try as we may, we can’t stop aging. But were you aware loss of hearing can lead to health concerns that are treatable, and in some cases, avoidable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults found that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to suffer from some amount of hearing loss when tested with mid or low-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but not as severe. The experts also found that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in other words, those with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % than those who had normal blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) revealed that the link between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even when taking into account other variables.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is pretty well demonstrated. But why would diabetes put you at increased danger of getting loss of hearing? The reason isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is related to a wide range of health concerns, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically injured. One theory is that the disease could affect the ears in a similar manner, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management could be at fault. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but in particular, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it found, suffered more. It’s essential to get your blood sugar analyzed and consult with a doctor if you think you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Also, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but going through a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health concerns. Research conducted in 2012 uncovered a definite connection between the chance of falling and hearing loss though you might not have thought that there was a connection between the two. Looking at a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with slight hearing loss the connection held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have fallen within the last twelve months.

Why would you fall just because you are having trouble hearing? Even though our ears play a significant role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Even though this research didn’t go into what was the cause of the subject’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one problem. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that managing loss of hearing might potentially reduce your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (including this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure could actually quicken age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been rather persistently revealed. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: If you’re a guy, the connection between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: Two main arteries are very near to the ears and additionally the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one reason why people with high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure might also possibly cause physical damage to your ears which is the main theory behind why it would quicken hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force behind each beat. That could possibly injure the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you believe you’re suffering from loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after about 2,000 individuals in their 70’s during the period of six years found that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with just slight hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same researchers which tracked people over more than ten years found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would get dementia. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the danger of a person with no hearing loss; severe hearing loss raises the chance by 4 times.

It’s alarming stuff, but it’s significant to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well documented, scientists have been less effective at sussing out why the two are so solidly connected. If you can’t hear very well, it’s hard to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. In other words, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have very much juice left for recalling things like where you put your keys. Maintaining social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations become much easier to manage, and you’ll be able to focus on the critical things instead of trying to figure out what someone just said. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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