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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss clues and truth be told, as hard as we might try, we can’t stop aging. But did you realize that hearing loss has also been linked to between
loss issues
that can be treated, and in many cases, preventable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when mid or low frequency sounds were utilized to test them. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. The experts also observed that individuals who were pre-diabetic, put simply, those with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % than those who had normal blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) found that there was a absolutely consistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while when all other variables are considered.

So the connection between hearing loss and diabetes is pretty well demonstrated. But why should you be at higher risk of getting diabetes just because you have hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a broad range of health problems, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically damaged. One theory is that the the ears could be likewise impacted by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But overall health management could be at fault. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it discovered that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s important to get your blood sugar checked and speak to a doctor if you suspect you could have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Similarly, if you’re having trouble 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 problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can result in lots of other complications. And though you might not think that your hearing could affect your possibility of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 revealed a substantial link 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 increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with mild loss of hearing the link held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have fallen within the last 12 months.

Why would having trouble hearing cause you to fall? While our ears play an important role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, very literally). Even though this research didn’t go into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, the authors speculated that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) may be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. The good news here is that managing hearing loss might possibly reduce your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (including this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have found that high blood pressure could actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found rather consistently, even while controlling for variables such as noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. Gender is the only variable that appears to matter: If you’re a male, 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 individuals who have 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 pulse.) But high blood pressure could also potentially be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would accelerate loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure every time it beats. That could potentially injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you think you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed almost 2,000 people in their 70’s during the period of six years discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which analyzed subjects over more than ten years revealed that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that they would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, albeit a less statistically significant one.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the danger of a person with no hearing loss; severe loss of hearing raises the chance by 4 times.

It’s frightening information, but it’s significant to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and mental decline has been well documented, experts have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so strongly linked. If you can’t hear well, it’s overwhelming to interact with people so the theory is you will avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. In essence, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have very much juice left for remembering things such as where you left your keys. Staying in close communication with friends and family and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more difficult 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 test.

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