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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss indicators and let’s be truthful, try as we might, we can’t escape aging. But did you recognize that hearing loss has also been linked to health concerns that can be managed, and in certain scenarios, can be prevented? Here’s a look at some examples that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to have mild or more 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 extreme. The analysts also observed that subjects 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 percent than those who had normal blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) revealed that there was a absolutely consistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even when taking into consideration other variables.

So it’s well established that diabetes is connected to a greater risk of loss of hearing. But why should diabetes put you at higher risk of suffering from loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is related to a wide range of health issues, and in particular, can cause physical injury to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One hypothesis is that the the ears may be likewise affected by the disease, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it might also be related to overall health management. A 2015 study highlighted the link between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it discovered that people with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to talk to a doctor and have your blood sugar tested. 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 exactly a health issue, because it’s not vertigo but it can lead to many other complications. A study performed in 2012 disclosed a strong link between the risk of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have suspected that there was a link between the two. Examining a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those who had normal hearing to have fallen within the past 12 months.

Why would you fall just because you are having problems hearing? There are several reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Although this study didn’t delve into what had caused the subject’s falls, it was speculated by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) may be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your split attention means you may be paying less attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with loss of hearing could potentially decrease your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is associated with high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure could actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found fairly persistently, even while controlling for variables such as noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a male, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely related to your circulatory system: In addition to the many tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one reason why individuals with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they are hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure could also potentially be the cause of physical damage to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would speed up loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could possibly be damaged by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you think you’re experiencing hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing may put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s discovered that the chance of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which tracked subjects over more than a decade found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more likely it was that they would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar link, even though it was less substantial.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at 3 times the risk of someone with no hearing loss; one’s chance is nearly quintupled with extreme hearing loss.

But, though scientists have been able to document the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this occurs. If you can’t hear very 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. A different theory is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much energy into understanding the sounds around you, you may not have very much energy left for remembering things such as 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 treating hearing loss. Social situations become much more confusing when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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