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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss clues and truth be told, try as we may, we can’t avoid aging. But did you recognize that loss of hearing has also been connected to health problems that can be treated, and in many cases, can be avoided? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when low or mid frequency sounds were utilized to test them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. The researchers also found that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in other words, those with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 % more likely than people who had normal blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) discovered that the relationship between hearing loss and diabetes was persistent, even while taking into account other variables.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is very well demonstrated. But why would you be at higher risk of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from hearing loss? The reason isn’t really well known. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health problems, and notably, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically injured. One hypothesis is that the disease could impact the ears in a similar way, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management might be to blame. A 2015 study highlighted the link between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but particularly, it revealed that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. 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 evaluated. By the same token, if you’re having problems hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health issue, because it’s not vertigo but it can lead to numerous other complications. And though you may not realize that your hearing would impact your likelihood of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 uncovered a considerable connection between hearing loss and fall risk. While studying over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for people with mild hearing loss: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those who had normal hearing to have fallen within the last year.

Why should you fall just because you are having trouble hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall aside from the role your ears have in balance. Even though the reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, the authors theorized that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) may be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your divided attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that may lead to a fall. The good news here is that treating loss of hearing might possibly lessen your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have demonstrated that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure might actually quicken age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like noise exposure or if you smoke, the link has been pretty consistently found. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be gender: The connection betweenhearing loss and high blood pressure, if your a male, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: In addition to the many little blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one explanation why people with high blood pressure often experience 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.) The primary theory for why high blood pressure might 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 damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you believe you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Danger of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s found that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same research group which followed subjects over more than a decade found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would develop dementia. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically significant one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate loss of hearing puts you at three times the danger of a person without hearing loss; one’s chance is nearly quintupled with extreme loss of hearing.

But, though experts have been able to document the link between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still aren’t positive as to why this happens. If you can’t hear very well, it’s overwhelming 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 loss of hearing overloads your brain. In other words, because your brain is putting so much energy into understanding the sounds around you, you might not have very much energy left for recalling things such as where you left your keys. Maintaining social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to handle, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the necessary stuff instead of attempting to figure out what someone just said. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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