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, try as we might, aging can’t be avoided. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss concerns
that are treatable, and in certain situations, can be avoided? Here’s a look at several cases that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults revealed that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were used to test them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. The investigators also found that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, people with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 percent to suffer from loss of hearing than those with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) revealed that there was a persistent association between hearing loss and diabetes, even when when all other variables are accounted for.

So it’s well determined that diabetes is associated with an increased chance of loss of hearing. But why should diabetes put you at increased chance of suffering from loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is linked to a number of health issues, and in particular, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically harmed. One hypothesis is that the condition could impact the ears in a similar manner, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management may be to blame. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but most notably, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it found, suffered more. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a good idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having a hard time hearing also.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can result in lots of other complications. Research performed in 2012 showed a definite link between the danger of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have thought that there was a link between the two. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with minor loss of hearing the link held up: Within the last year individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than people with normal hearing.

Why should having trouble hearing make you fall? There are numerous reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Though this research didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) could be one problem. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that managing loss of hearing could possibly minimize your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (including this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found rather persistently, even while controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: If you’re a man, the link between high blood pressure and hearing loss is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: In addition to the numerous tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one explanation why people who have high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s actually their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your own pulse.) The principal theory behind why high blood pressure can accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing could put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with just mild loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar connection, even though it was less substantial.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the danger of a person with no hearing loss; one’s risk is raised by nearly 4 times with extreme hearing loss.

It’s frightening information, but it’s essential to recognize that while the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so solidly linked. A common theory 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 theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In other words, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you might not have much energy left for recalling things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations are easier to handle, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary things instead of attempting to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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