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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss indicators and truth be told, as hard as we may try, we can’t stop aging. But were you aware hearing loss has also been connected to health problems that can be treated, and in many cases, can be avoided? You may be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that evaluated over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have some level of hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were utilized to screen them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also discovered by investigators that people who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent than people who had healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) revealed that the link between loss of hearing and diabetes was persistent, even while when all other variables are considered.

So it’s solidly established that diabetes is linked to an increased chance of hearing loss. But why would you be at greater danger of getting diabetes just because you have hearing loss? The reason isn’t really well known. Diabetes is associated with a wide variety of health issues, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be injured physically. One hypothesis is that the condition may affect the ears in a similar manner, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management could be to blame. A 2015 study underscored the link between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to talk to a doctor and get your blood sugar evaluated. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can result in numerous other difficulties. Research carried out in 2012 revealed a strong link between the danger of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have suspected that there was a relationship between the two. Evaluating a sample of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with mild loss of hearing the relationship held up: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the previous 12 months.

Why would having trouble hearing cause you to fall? While our ears play an important role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Even though the reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, the authors theorized that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one issue. But it could also go the other way if problems 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 treating loss of hearing could possibly minimize your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (such as this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure might actually quicken age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been pretty persistently revealed. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be sex: The link betweenhearing loss and high blood pressure, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears as well as the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals with high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is actually their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure may also possibly be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would speed up hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure every time it beats. That could potentially injure the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you think you’re suffering with loss of hearing 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

Hearing loss may put you at higher risk of dementia. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that followed about 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with just slight 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 risk of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (They also found a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these conclusions, moderate loss of hearing puts you at three times the danger of a person with no loss of hearing; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s danger.

It’s alarming stuff, but it’s significant to note that while the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well documented, researchers have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so strongly linked. A common hypothesis is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have very much juice left for remembering things such as where you put your keys. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social circumstances become much more difficult when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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