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 let’s be truthful, as hard as we may try, we can’t escape aging. But were you aware loss of hearing has also been linked to between
loss concerns
that can be managed, and in certain situations, can be avoided? Here’s a peek at some examples that might surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which found that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to suffer from some level of hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but not as severe. The analysts also determined that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in other words, those with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % to have loss of hearing than individuals who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that the link between loss of hearing and diabetes was consistent, even when taking into consideration other variables.

So the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well founded. But why should diabetes put you at higher risk of suffering from loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well known. Diabetes is related to a wide range of health issues, and notably, can cause physical harm to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One hypothesis is that the the ears could be similarly affected by the disease, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it could also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study that evaluated U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, but particularly, it found that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to consult with a doctor and get your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a good idea to have your hearing checked if you’re having difficulty hearing too.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but going through a bad fall can start a cascade of health problems. Research conducted in 2012 discovered a strong connection between the risk of falling and hearing loss though you may not have thought that there was a connection between the two. While examining over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for people with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the past 12 months.

Why should having trouble hearing make you fall? Though our ears have an important role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Although this study didn’t delve into what had caused the participant’s falls, it was speculated by the authors that having problems hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) might be one problem. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds around you, your split attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. The good news here is that treating loss of hearing could potentially decrease your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure may actually quicken age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been relatively persistently revealed. The only variable that matters appears to be gender: If you’re a man, the connection between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears as well as the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why people who have 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.) But high blood pressure could also potentially cause physical damage to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would quicken loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may possibly be damaged by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you think you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia may be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s found that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only mild loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which tracked subjects over more than a decade revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that he or she would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, though a less statistically substantial one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of someone without hearing loss; one’s chance is raised by nearly 4 times with severe hearing loss.

It’s alarming information, but it’s essential to note that while the link between hearing loss and mental decline has been well documented, scientists have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so solidly connected. If you can’t hear well, it’s overwhelming to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. Essentially, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you might not have much juice left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more overwhelming when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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