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

Aging is one of the most common signals of hearing loss and truth be told, as hard as we might try, aging can’t be avoided. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss concerns
that can be managed, and in some cases, can be prevented? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when analyzed with mid or low-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also determined by investigators that people who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent than people who had normal blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) discovered that the relationship between diabetes and hearing loss was consistent, even while taking into account other variables.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well founded. But why should diabetes put you at greater chance of getting loss of hearing? The reason isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is connected to a broad range of health problems, and particularly, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be harmed physically. One theory is that the the ears could be similarly affected by the condition, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management may be the culprit. A 2015 study highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it discovered that people with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to talk to a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. Similarly, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it tested.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can lead to numerous other complications. A study performed in 2012 revealed a strong link between the risk of falling and hearing loss though you might not have suspected that there was a link between the two. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists discovered that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for those with mild loss of hearing: Within the last 12 months individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than individuals with normal hearing.

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

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been relatively persistently found. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: If you’re a man, the connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears not to mention the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one reason why people with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is ultimately their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) The primary theory behind why high blood pressure might speed up hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might possibly be injured by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you believe you’re suffering from hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Danger of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which analyzed subjects over more than a decade revealed that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the danger of someone with no loss of hearing; one’s chance is nearly quintupled with extreme loss of hearing.

It’s frightening information, but it’s significant to recognize that while the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well documented, experts have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so strongly linked. If you can’t hear well, it’s difficult to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds around you, you might not have very much energy left for recalling things such as 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 loss of hearing. Social situations become much more difficult when you are attempting 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.

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