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, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be avoided. But did you know that loss of hearing can lead to health issues that are treatable, and in many cases, can be prevented? You may be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to suffer from mild or greater hearing loss when low or mid frequency sounds were used to test them. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. The analysts also determined that individuals 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 more likely by 30 percent to have hearing loss than those who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) determined that the link between diabetes and hearing loss was consistent, even while taking into consideration other variables.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is pretty well demonstrated. But why would you be at greater risk of getting diabetes just because you have hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is connected to a broad range of health problems, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be damaged physically. One hypothesis is that the disease might impact the ears in a similar manner, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it may also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it revealed that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. 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. Also, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health condition, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health issues. A study conducted in 2012 revealed a strong connection between the risk of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have thought that there was a relationship between the two. Evaluating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with mild loss of hearing the connection held up: Within the last twelve months people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than people with normal hearing.

Why should you fall because you are having problems hearing? While our ears have an important role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Even though this study didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, the authors believed that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) may be one issue. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to what’s around you, it might be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that treating hearing loss might possibly lessen your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (such as this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found rather persistently, even when controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: If you’re a guy, the link between high blood pressure and loss of hearing is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: along with the many little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one reason why people with high blood pressure often experience 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 primary theory behind why high blood pressure could quicken hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. That could potentially injure the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you believe you’re suffering with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed nearly 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years revealed that the danger 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 followed subjects over more than ten years found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that they would get dementia. (They also found a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less significant.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the risk of someone with no loss of hearing; one’s danger is nearly quintupled with significant loss of hearing.

But, even though researchers have been successful at documenting the connection between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still don’t know why this takes place. If you can’t hear very well, it’s hard to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds around you, you may not have much juice left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to manage, and you’ll be able to focus on the important things instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.
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