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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss clues and let’s face it, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be avoided. But did you know that hearing loss can lead to between
loss problems
that are treatable, and in certain situations, preventable? Here’s a peek at several examples that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to have some level of hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were used to screen them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also discovered by researchers that individuals who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from loss of hearing than people with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) found that there was a absolutely consistent association between hearing loss and diabetes, even when when all other variables are taken into account.

So the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes is very well established. But why would diabetes put you at increased chance of suffering from loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is linked to a broad range of health issues, and particularly, can result in physical harm to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the the ears may be likewise impacted by the condition, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it could also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study underscored the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but in particular, it discovered that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s necessary to have your blood sugar tested and talk with a doctor if you believe you might have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested if you’re having difficulty hearing too.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health condition, since we aren’t discussing vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health problems. And though you might not think that your hearing could impact your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study revealed a significant link between hearing loss and fall risk. Looking at a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers discovered 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. This relationship held up even for people with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the last twelve months.

Why would having trouble hearing make you fall? Though our ears play a significant role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Although this study didn’t go into what was the cause of the subject’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) may be one problem. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to your surroundings, it could be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing may potentially decrease your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (like this one from 2018) have demonstrated that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found fairly consistently, even when controlling for variables like whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: If you’re a male, the connection 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: Two main arteries are very close to the ears and additionally the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals with 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 may also possibly be the cause of physical damage to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would speed up hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. That could potentially injure the smaller blood arteries in your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re suffering from 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

Chances of dementia could be higher with hearing loss. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after about 2,000 individuals in their 70’s during the period of six years discovered that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just slight hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which followed people over more than ten years revealed that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more likely it was that he or she would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, even though it was less significant.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the risk of somebody with no loss of hearing; one’s chance is nearly quintupled with significant hearing loss.

It’s alarming information, but it’s essential to note that while the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so solidly connected. If you can’t hear very well, it’s overwhelming to socialize with people so the theory is you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In other words, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you might not have very 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 loss of hearing. Social circumstances become much more confusing when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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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