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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 face it, try as we may, aging can’t be stopped. But did you know that hearing loss can lead to between
loss concerns
that can be treated, and in certain situations, preventable? Here’s a look at some examples that might surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults discovered that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when mid or low frequency sounds were used to screen them. High frequency impairment was also possible but less severe. The experts also observed that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, people with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % than people who had healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) revealed that the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes was consistent, even when taking into consideration other variables.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is linked to a higher chance of loss of hearing. But why would diabetes put you at increased risk of getting hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a broad range of health concerns, and particularly, can trigger physical injury to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the condition might impact the ears in a similar manner, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But it could also be related to overall health management. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, but most notably, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it found, suffered worse. If you are concerned that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. Similarly, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can lead to numerous other complications. And though you might not realize that your hearing would affect your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study revealed a significant connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with slight hearing loss the link held up: Within the last 12 months individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should having trouble hearing cause you to fall? There are a number of reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall aside from the role your ears have in balance. Though this research didn’t delve into what had caused the subject’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having problems hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one issue. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to your surroundings, it could be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing could possibly reduce your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have found that high blood pressure could 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. The only variable that is important appears to be sex: The link between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears as well as the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals with high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) The principal theory behind why high blood pressure can accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. That could potentially injure 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 experiencing loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only slight hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also discovered, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (They also found a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically significant one.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at 3 times the risk of a person without hearing loss; one’s danger is raised by nearly 4 times with significant hearing loss.

It’s alarming information, but it’s essential to note that while the link between loss of hearing and mental decline has been well recognized, experts have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so solidly connected. A common hypothesis is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have very much energy 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 hearing loss. Social scenarios become much more confusing when you are contending 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 getting a hearing exam.