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 face it, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be stopped. But did you realize that hearing loss can lead to between
loss issues
that can be treated, and in some cases, can be prevented? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which discovered that people who had been diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when tested with mid or low-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. The researchers also discovered that individuals 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 % than people with healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) found that there was a absolutely consistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while controlling for other variables.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well established. But why would diabetes put you at higher danger of suffering from hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well known. Diabetes is associated with a wide variety of health problems, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be injured physically. One theory is that the condition may affect the ears in a similar way, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But it might also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s necessary to have your blood sugar checked and speak with a doctor if you believe you might have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested if you’re having trouble hearing also.

2: Falling

OK, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health concerns. And while you might not realize that your hearing would impact your likelihood of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 revealed a considerable link between hearing loss and fall risk. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, investigators discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with minimal hearing loss the connection held up: Within the previous twelve months individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would you fall because you are having difficulty hearing? While 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 study didn’t delve into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) may be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your divided attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could end up in a fall. What’s promising here is that treating loss of hearing could possibly reduce your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (including this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is associated with high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been pretty persistently discovered. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be sex: If you’re a guy, the connection between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely related to your circulatory system: In addition to the countless tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one explanation 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 own pulse your hearing.) The main theory behind why high blood pressure can quicken loss of hearing 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 could possibly be injured by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you believe you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Danger of dementia may be higher with loss of hearing. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after almost 2,000 individuals in their 70’s during the period of six years found 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 tracked people over more than ten years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more probably it was that they would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, even though it was less significant.) Based on these conclusions, moderate loss of hearing puts you at three times the danger of a person with no hearing loss; severe hearing loss raises the risk by 4 times.

It’s frightening stuff, but it’s significant to note that while the link between loss of hearing and mental decline has been well recognized, scientists have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so strongly linked. 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 debilitating. Another theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In other words, because your brain is putting so much energy into comprehending the sounds near you, you might not have much energy left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations are easier to handle, and you’ll be able to focus on the important stuff instead of attempting to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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