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

Aging is one of the most common signals of hearing loss and let’s face it, try as we may, aging can’t be stopped. But were you aware hearing loss has also been connected to between
loss issues
that are treatable, and in many cases, avoidable? Here’s a peek at a few examples that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults discovered that people who had been diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when mid or low frequency sounds were applied to screen them. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. The investigators also determined that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, those with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely than those who had normal blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that the link between loss of hearing and diabetes was consistent, even while when all other variables are taken into account.

So the link between hearing loss and diabetes is very well founded. But why would diabetes put you at higher risk of getting loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide variety of health concerns, and notably, can cause physical injury to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears might be similarly impacted by the condition, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it may also be related to general health management. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but in particular, it discovered that those with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. If you are concerned that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to speak to a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked 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 lead to lots of other difficulties. A study carried out in 2012 uncovered a strong link between the risk of falling and hearing loss though you might not have suspected that there was a link between the two. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for individuals with mild hearing loss: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the last year.

Why would having trouble hearing make you fall? Though our ears have a significant role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, very literally). Although this study didn’t go into what had caused the participant’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having trouble 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 paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it could be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with loss of hearing may potentially reduce your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been pretty consistently revealed. The only variable that is important appears to be gender: If you’re a guy, the connection between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: In addition to the many tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one explanation why individuals 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; you’re hearing your pulse.) But high blood pressure could also possibly cause physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would accelerate hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure every time it beats. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you suspect you’re suffering with hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Danger of dementia could be higher with hearing loss. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s found that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same group of researchers, that the risk of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (They also uncovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically significant one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the danger of someone with no hearing loss; severe loss of hearing raises the risk by 4 times.

However, though scientists have been able to document the link between cognitive decline and hearing loss, they still aren’t positive as to why this occurs. If you can’t hear very well, it’s difficult to interact with people so the theory is you will avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. In other words, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds around you, you might not have much energy left for remembering things such as where you put your keys. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social situations become much more overwhelming when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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