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 be truthful, try as we may, aging can’t be stopped. But did you know that loss of hearing has also been linked to health concerns that can be treated, and in some cases, can be prevented? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which revealed that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. It was also found by analysts that individuals who struggled with 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 have loss of hearing than individuals who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) discovered that there was a persistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even when controlling for other variables.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is quite well established. But why should you be at higher danger of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health issues, and particularly, can trigger physical injury to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One hypothesis is that the condition might impact the ears in a similar manner, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management could be the culprit. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s important to have your blood sugar analyzed and speak to a doctor if you think you might have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. By the same token, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can trigger lots of other difficulties. A study carried out in 2012 showed a strong link between the chance of falling and hearing loss though you may not have thought that there was a link between the two. Evaluating a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with mild hearing loss the connection held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have fallen within the last twelve months.

Why should you fall just because you are having trouble hearing? There are a number of reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Although the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, it was suspected by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) may be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your split attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that may end up in a fall. The good news here is that managing hearing loss could possibly decrease your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure may actually quicken age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been rather persistently revealed. The only variable that is important appears to be gender: If you’re a guy, the connection between loss of hearing and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: In addition to the countless tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one reason why individuals who have 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; you’re hearing your pulse.) But high blood pressure could also possibly cause physical injury to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would accelerate hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. That could potentially injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, 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 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after about 2,000 people in their 70’s during the period of six years discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same research group which followed people over more than a decade found that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more probably it was that they would get dementia. (They also uncovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less significant.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the danger of somebody without hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s risk.

It’s scary stuff, but it’s important to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and mental decline has been well recognized, experts have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so solidly linked. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds around you, you might not have much juice left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more overwhelming when you are struggling to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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