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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, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be stopped. But were you aware loss of hearing has also been linked to health issues that can be treated, and in certain situations, avoidable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults revealed that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when screened with mid or low-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also possible but less severe. It was also found by investigators that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely than people who had normal blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) determined that there was a consistent association between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when controlling for other variables.

So it’s solidly established that diabetes is linked to a higher danger of loss of hearing. But why would diabetes put you at greater danger of getting hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is connected to a wide range of health problems, and notably, can cause physical damage to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the condition may affect the ears in a similar manner, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management may be the culprit. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, 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 may be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to talk to a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health problem, since we aren’t discussing vertigo, but having a bad fall can start a cascade of health issues. And while you might not realize that your hearing could impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study found a significant link between hearing loss and fall risk. Investigating a trial of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for individuals with mild hearing loss: Within the previous twelve months people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should you fall because you are having difficulty hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall aside from the role your ears have in balance. Even though 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 an important sound like a car honking) 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 your surroundings, it might be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that treating hearing loss may possibly lessen your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (including this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have shown that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found fairly consistently, even while controlling for variables such as noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. Gender is the only variable that appears to matter: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: Two main arteries are very close to the ears as well as the little 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 own pulse.) But high blood pressure could also potentially cause physical injury to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would speed up loss of hearing. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. That could possibly injure the smaller blood arteries in your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss might put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which followed subjects over more than ten years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that he or she would get dementia. (They also found a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the danger of someone who doesn’t have loss of hearing; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s danger.

However, even though researchers have been successful at documenting the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this takes place. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to socialize with people so the theory is you will avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In essence, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have much energy left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social scenarios become much more overwhelming when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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