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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss clues and truth be told, try as we may, aging can’t be avoided. But were you aware hearing loss has also been linked to health problems that can be managed, and in certain scenarios, can be avoided? Here’s a peek at some examples that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults discovered that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to suffer from some amount of hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were utilized to test them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. The analysts also found that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in other words, people with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from loss of hearing than individuals who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) revealed that there was a persistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even while taking into account other variables.

So it’s well determined that diabetes is connected to an increased risk of hearing loss. But why should diabetes put you at greater danger of getting loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health issues, and particularly, can result in physical injury to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One hypothesis is that the the ears might be likewise affected by the disease, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it may also be related to overall health management. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but particularly, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s necessary to get your blood sugar tested and talk with a doctor if you think you may have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but going through a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health issues. And though you might not think that your hearing would impact your possibility of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study revealed a considerable link between hearing loss and fall risk. Examining a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers 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 individuals with mild loss of hearing the relationship held up: Within the previous year people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would having trouble hearing cause you to fall? There are several reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Even though this research didn’t delve into what had caused 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 important sounds) might be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you may be paying less attention to your physical environment and that may lead to a fall. The good news here is that treating hearing loss might possibly reduce your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been fairly persistently discovered. Gender is the only variable that appears to make a difference: The connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: along with the countless tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one explanation why individuals who have 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; you’re hearing your pulse.) The main theory behind why high blood pressure can speed up loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you think you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss may put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s found that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only mild loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same group of researchers, that the danger of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (They also found a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically significant one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the danger of someone with no loss of hearing; severe loss of hearing raises the chance by 4 times.

But, even though experts have been successful at documenting the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this takes place. A common hypothesis is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different theory is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have much juice left for recalling things such as where you left your keys. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. Social circumstances become much more difficult when you are struggling to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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