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, as hard as we may try, we can’t avoid aging. But did you know that hearing loss can lead to between
loss issues
that can be managed, and in certain situations, avoidable? Here’s a peek at several cases that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to suffer from mild or more hearing loss when mid or low frequency sounds were applied to screen them. High frequency impairment was also possible but not as severe. It was also discovered by analysts that people who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from loss of hearing than people who had normal blood sugar. 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 while controlling for other variables.

So it’s pretty well determined that diabetes is connected to an increased chance of hearing loss. But why should diabetes put you at greater chance of getting loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health issues, and in particular, can cause physical damage to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the condition may impact the ears in a similar way, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management may be to blame. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but particularly, it discovered that people with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to speak to a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing examined if you’re having trouble hearing also.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can result in lots of other complications. And though you may not realize that your hearing could affect your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study uncovered a substantial link between hearing loss and fall risk. Looking at a trial of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the past 12 months.

Why would you fall just because you are having problems hearing? There are a number of reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Even though this study didn’t delve into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, the authors speculated that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) might be one problem. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to what’s around you, it might be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that managing hearing loss could potentially minimize your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (including this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure might actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen pretty persistently, even while controlling for variables including whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. The only variable that matters appears to be gender: If you’re a man, the link between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears as well as the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals with high blood pressure often experience 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.) The leading theory for why high blood pressure can quicken loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be injured by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you suspect you’re experiencing hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing may put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with just slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (They also discovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less significant.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the risk of a person who doesn’t have loss of hearing; one’s danger is raised by nearly 4 times with severe hearing loss.

But, even though researchers have been successful at documenting the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this happens. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. In other words, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have much energy left for remembering things such as 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 dealing with hearing loss. Social scenarios become much more difficult when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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