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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, we can’t stop aging. But did you know that hearing loss can lead to between
loss issues
that can be treated, and in many cases, can be avoided? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that evaluated over 5,000 American adults discovered that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when low or mid frequency sounds were applied to screen them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also discovered by researchers that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from hearing loss than those who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) found that there was a persistent connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when taking into account other variables.

So it’s pretty well established that diabetes is associated with a greater chance of loss of hearing. But why would you be at increased danger of getting diabetes just because you have hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well known. Diabetes is linked to a broad range of health problems, and notably, can cause physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One hypothesis is that the the ears might be similarly impacted by the condition, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it could also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study underscored the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it found, suffered more. It’s necessary to have your blood sugar analyzed and talk with a doctor if you think you could have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a good idea to have your hearing checked if you’re having trouble hearing too.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can result in numerous other complications. And though you may not think that your hearing would affect your possibility of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 revealed a substantial connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with minimal loss of hearing the relationship held up: Within the last twelve months individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than people with normal hearing.

Why would having difficulty hearing cause you to fall? There are a number of reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Although the reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, the authors believed that having problems 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 near you, your divided attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that may end up in a fall. What’s promising here is that managing loss of hearing might potentially decrease your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have found that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen pretty persistently, even when controlling for variables like whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: The connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: In addition to the many tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one explanation why people with high blood pressure often suffer from 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 own pulse.) The main theory behind why high blood pressure might accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may potentially be damaged by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you suspect you’re experiencing hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing could put you at higher danger of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after nearly 2,000 people in their 70’s during the period of six years found that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with just slight hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same group of researchers, that the risk of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (They also discovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less significant.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of someone with no hearing loss; one’s risk is nearly quintupled with significant hearing loss.

But, even though scientists have been successful at documenting the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this takes place. If you can’t hear very well, it’s difficult to socialize with people so the theory is you will avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have very much juice left for remembering things like where you left your keys. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations are easier to handle, and you’ll be able to focus on the important things instead of attempting to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.