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

Aging is one of the most typical indicators of hearing loss and truth be told, try as we might, aging can’t be avoided. But did you realize that hearing loss has also been connected to health problems that can be treated, and in certain circumstances, can be prevented? Here’s a look at a few examples that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults revealed that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when analyzed with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also found by researchers that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be defined as diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 % more likely to have hearing loss than people with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) discovered that there was a persistent association between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when when all other variables are considered.

So the connection between hearing loss and diabetes is pretty well demonstrated. But why should you be at increased risk of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health problems, and in particular, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be harmed physically. One theory is that the disease could affect the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But general health management could be the culprit. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that people with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s essential to have your blood sugar analyzed and speak to a doctor if you suspect you could have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Also, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can trigger lots of other difficulties. And while you might not realize that your hearing could impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study uncovered a considerable link between hearing loss and fall risk. While studying over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers 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. This link held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Within the last 12 months individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than people with normal hearing.

Why would you fall just because you are having difficulty hearing? There are several reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Even though the reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, it was suspected by the authors that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one issue. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to what’s around you, it might be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with hearing loss may possibly lessen your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (like this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been pretty consistently revealed. Gender is the only variable that appears to matter: If you’re a man, the link between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: In addition to the numerous little blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one reason why people with 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; it’s your pulse your hearing.) The primary theory for why high blood pressure can quicken hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might possibly be injured by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re suffering from hearing loss 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 danger of dementia. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after nearly 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years found that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the risk of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the risk of somebody without hearing loss; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s danger.

But, even though experts have been able to document the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this takes place. If you can’t hear 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 hearing loss short circuits your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much energy into understanding the sounds around you, you might not have much energy left for remembering things like where you put your keys. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations are easier to handle, and you’ll be able to focus on the critical stuff instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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