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

Aging is one of the most typical indicators of hearing loss and truth be told, try as we might, aging can’t be stopped. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss problems
that are treatable, and in certain situations, can be prevented? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which discovered that diabetes diagnosed people were two times as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were applied to screen them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. It was also determined by investigators that people who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent to suffer from hearing loss than those with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) determined that there was a consistent association between hearing loss and diabetes, even when when all other variables are considered.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is pretty well founded. But why would you be at increased danger of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is related to a wide variety of health issues, and in particular, can cause physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the condition could impact the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it may also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, but most notably, it revealed that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to speak to a doctor and get your blood sugar evaluated. By the same token, if you’re having problems hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can trigger numerous other difficulties. And while you might not realize that your hearing would impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 uncovered a significant link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for those with mild hearing loss: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have had a fall within the previous 12 months.

Why should having trouble hearing make you fall? 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, very literally). Even though this study didn’t delve into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, it was speculated by the authors that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) may be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that managing loss of hearing may possibly lessen your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been fairly persistently found. The only variable that is important appears to be sex: If you’re a man, the link between loss of hearing and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: Two main arteries are very close to the ears and additionally the little blood vessels inside them. This is one reason why people with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is actually their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) The leading theory behind why high blood pressure might accelerate loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be injured by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

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

But, even though experts have been successful at documenting the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this occurs. If you can’t hear well, it’s difficult to socialize with people so the theory is you will avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so you might not have much energy left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more difficult when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.

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