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

Aging is one of the most typical indicators of hearing loss and let’s be honest, try as we may, we can’t escape aging. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss concerns
that are treatable, and in certain circumstances, can be prevented? Here’s a look at a few examples that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were utilized to test them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. The researchers also determined that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, those with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from loss of hearing than those who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) found that the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even when controlling for other variables.

So it’s well established that diabetes is linked to a greater risk of hearing loss. But why would diabetes put you at higher risk of suffering from hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a number of health problems, and particularly, can cause physical injury to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the condition might impact the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it may also be related to general health management. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, people suffered worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. If you are concerned that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to speak to a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having difficulty hearing too.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but going through a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health concerns. And while you may not think that your hearing would impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study revealed a considerable connection between hearing loss and fall risk. Investigating a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with slight loss of hearing the link held up: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the last twelve months.

Why should you fall just because you are having difficulty hearing? There are quite a few reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Though this research didn’t delve into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having problems hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) might be one problem. 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 might be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that treating loss of hearing may possibly minimize your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure might actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen rather consistently, even when controlling for variables like whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: The link betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears as well as the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why people who have 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 own pulse.) But high blood pressure could also potentially cause physical damage to your ears which is the main theory behind why it would quicken loss of hearing. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. That could possibly injure the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss may put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only mild hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which tracked people over more than 10 years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more probably it was that he or she would get dementia. (They also found a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of a person without hearing loss; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s chance.

However, though experts have been successful at documenting the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this occurs. A common hypothesis is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads 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 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 dealing with hearing loss. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations are easier to deal with, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the critical things instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.