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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 indicators and let’s be honest, try as we may, aging can’t be stopped. But did you realize that loss of hearing has also been linked to health problems that can be treated, and in certain circumstances, avoidable? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which revealed that individuals who had been diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. It was also determined by analysts 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 % more likely to have loss of hearing than those who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) found that the relationship between loss of hearing and diabetes was persistent, even when when all other variables are accounted for.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is very well demonstrated. But why should you be at increased risk of getting diabetes just because you suffer from hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a wide range of health issues, and notably, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically harmed. One hypothesis is that the the ears could be likewise impacted by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it could also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but most notably, it found that people with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. It’s essential to have your blood sugar tested and speak with a doctor if you suspect you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing examined if you’re having trouble hearing too.

2: Falling

OK, this is not really a health problem, since we aren’t discussing vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can start a cascade of health problems. Research carried out in 2012 revealed a strong link between the danger of falling and hearing loss though you might not have thought that there was a link between the two. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with minimal loss of hearing the relationship held up: Within the previous 12 months individuals who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should you fall because you are having difficulty hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall other than the role your ears have in balance. Although this research didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, it was speculated by the authors that having problems hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) could be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you might be paying less attention to your physical environment and that could end up in a fall. The good news here is that managing hearing loss might possibly lessen your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (such as this one from 2018) have demonstrated that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have found that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found fairly consistently, even while controlling for variables such as whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: If you’re a man, the connection between high blood pressure and loss of hearing is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: Two main arteries are very near to the ears not to mention 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 pulse.) But high blood pressure may also potentially cause physical injury to your ears which is the main theory behind why it would quicken loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. That could possibly injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you think you’re suffering from loss of hearing even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss might put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with just slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which analyzed people over more than 10 years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more probably it was that they would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, though a less statistically significant one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of somebody who doesn’t have loss of hearing; one’s danger is nearly quintupled with significant hearing loss.

However, though researchers have been successful at documenting the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this takes place. A common hypothesis is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In other words, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have much juice 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 capable of hearing clearly, social situations become much easier to deal with, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary things instead of attempting to figure out what someone just said. 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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