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 might try, aging can’t be stopped. But did you realize that loss of hearing can lead to health problems that can be managed, and in certain circumstances, avoidable? Here’s a peek at a few cases that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when low or mid frequency sounds were utilized to screen them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. The investigators also found that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in other words, people with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely 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 there was a absolutely consistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even while taking into account other variables.

So the association between loss of hearing and diabetes is quite well founded. But why should you be at greater risk of getting diabetes simply because you have hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a broad range of health issues, and particularly, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically damaged. One theory is that the disease may affect the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But general health management could be to blame. A 2015 study underscored the connection between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered even 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 essential to speak to a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. Similarly, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health problem, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but going through a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health issues. And while you might not think that your hearing would impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study found a significant link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for individuals with mild hearing loss: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have had a fall within the previous twelve months.

Why should you fall just because you are having trouble hearing? There are quite a few reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Even though the reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, the authors theorized that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one issue. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to your surroundings, it might be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that managing hearing loss might possibly minimize your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (including this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have found that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been rather consistently discovered. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: The connection betweenhearing loss and high blood pressure, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: along with the many tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one reason why people 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 own pulse.) But high blood pressure may also potentially be the cause of physical damage to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would accelerate hearing loss. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may potentially be damaged by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you believe you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia may be higher with loss of hearing. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after almost 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years discovered that the danger 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 researchers which tracked subjects over more than ten years revealed that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more likely it was that they would develop dementia. (They also discovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these findings, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3 times the danger of somebody without hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s danger.

It’s alarming stuff, but it’s significant 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 well, it’s difficult to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much energy into comprehending the sounds around you, you might not have very much juice left for recalling things such as where you put your keys. Staying in close communication with friends and family and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to deal with, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary things instead of trying to figure out what someone just said. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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