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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 clues and let’s be truthful, as hard as we might try, aging can’t be stopped. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss issues
that can be managed, and in some cases, can be avoided? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults discovered that people who had been diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were utilized to screen them. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. The researchers also found that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, individuals with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 % more likely than individuals with healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) discovered that the relationship between loss of hearing and diabetes was consistent, even while controlling for other variables.

So it’s pretty well determined that diabetes is associated with a higher risk of hearing loss. But why would you be at increased danger of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? The reason isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is connected to a number of health issues, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically injured. One hypothesis is that the condition may impact the ears in a similar way, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it may also be related to general health management. A 2015 study highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it found that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to talk to a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing examined if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health issues. And though you may not realize that your hearing would impact your possibility of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 revealed a considerable link between hearing loss and fall risk. Evaluating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with minimal hearing loss the relationship held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the past twelve months.

Why would you fall just because you are having problems hearing? There are several reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Though this research didn’t delve into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) may be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that may lead to a fall. The good news here is that treating hearing loss might potentially decrease your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (including this one from 2018) have shown that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been pretty consistently found. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: The link betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected 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 people with high blood pressure often experience 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 own pulse your hearing.) The main theory behind why high blood pressure could quicken loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may potentially be injured by this. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re dealing with 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

Danger of dementia could be higher with hearing loss. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with only slight hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, though a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the risk of someone with no loss of hearing; one’s chance is nearly quintupled with extreme hearing loss.

But, even though experts have been able to document the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this happens. If you can’t hear well, it’s overwhelming to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much energy into understanding the sounds around you, you might not have much juice 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 treating loss of hearing. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations are easier to deal with, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the important things instead of trying to figure out what someone just said. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.