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

Aging is one of the most typical signals of hearing loss and truth be told, try as we may, we can’t escape aging. But were you aware loss of hearing can lead to health problems that are treatable, and in certain situations, preventable? Here’s a peek at several examples that might surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults discovered that people who had been diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some level of hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were applied to screen them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. The experts also determined that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, those with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely than individuals who had normal blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) found that there was a consistent connection between hearing loss and diabetes, even while taking into account other variables.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well founded. But why would diabetes put you at higher risk of getting hearing loss? The reason isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is related to a broad range of health problems, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically harmed. One hypothesis is that the the ears could be likewise impacted by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But it may also be related to overall health management. A 2015 study that evaluated U.S. military veterans highlighted the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but particularly, it revealed that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. It’s necessary to have your blood sugar checked and talk with a doctor if you think you could have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. It’s a good idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having trouble hearing too.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can lead to many other difficulties. A study conducted in 2012 found a strong connection between the chance of falling and hearing loss though you may not have suspected that there was a relationship between the two. While studying over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 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 individuals with mild hearing loss the link held up: Within the past 12 months people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would you fall 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 have in balance. Even though the reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, the authors believed that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) may be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your split attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that may lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with hearing loss could potentially reduce your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have found that high blood pressure may actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found fairly persistently, even when controlling for variables such as noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that matters appears to be gender: The link between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely related to your circulatory system: In addition to the numerous tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one explanation why people who have high blood pressure often suffer from 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.) The principal theory behind why high blood pressure might quicken hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. That could possibly damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you think you’re suffering from loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing might put you at higher danger of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed nearly 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years discovered that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just slight hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the risk of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (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 three times the risk of someone with no hearing loss; one’s danger is raised by nearly 4 times with significant hearing loss.

However, though experts have been able to document the connection between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still aren’t sure as to why this occurs. If you can’t hear very well, it’s hard to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have much juice left for recalling things like where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to handle, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the critical stuff instead of attempting to understand 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 test.

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