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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 truth be told, as hard as we might try, aging can’t be escaped. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to health issues that are treatable, and in certain scenarios, preventable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which revealed that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when low or mid frequency sounds were used to test them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also determined by analysts that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be defined as diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 % to have loss of hearing than individuals with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) determined that there was a absolutely consistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when controlling for other variables.

So it’s well determined that diabetes is connected to an increased danger of loss of hearing. But why should you be at higher risk of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is related to a broad range of health concerns, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically injured. One hypothesis is that the the ears might be similarly affected by the disease, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management might be the culprit. A 2015 study highlighted the link between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it found, suffered worse. If you are concerned that you might be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to talk to a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. It’s a good idea to have your hearing tested if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t discussing vertigo, but going through a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health issues. And though you might not think that your hearing would impact your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study revealed a significant link between hearing loss and fall risk. Looking at a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with minor hearing loss the connection held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the past 12 months.

Why would having trouble hearing make you fall? There are a number of reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Even though the exact reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, it was suspected by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) could be one problem. 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 might be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with hearing loss could potentially decrease your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (including this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been seen fairly consistently, even while controlling for variables including noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that matters appears to be gender: The link between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears and additionally the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why people who have high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is ultimately 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 for why high blood pressure can accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may possibly be injured by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you think you’re suffering with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing might put you at higher danger of dementia. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that followed nearly 2,000 people in their 70’s over the course of six years found that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which tracked people over more than ten years discovered that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar link, even though it was less substantial.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at three times the danger of somebody who doesn’t have loss of hearing; severe loss of hearing raises the risk by 4 times.

It’s scary stuff, but it’s important to recognize that while the link between loss of hearing and mental decline has been well documented, researchers have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so strongly connected. If you can’t hear well, it’s difficult to interact with people so the theory is you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In other words, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so you might not have very much energy left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations are easier to manage, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the important stuff instead of attempting to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.