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

Aging is one of the most common indicators of hearing loss and let’s face it, as hard as we might try, we can’t escape aging. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss problems
that are treatable, and in certain circumstances, avoidable? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults found that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some degree of hearing loss when mid or low frequency sounds were applied to screen them. High frequency impairment was also possible but not as severe. The analysts also determined that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in other words, individuals with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from loss of hearing than those who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) determined that there was a absolutely consistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even when taking into account other variables.

So the connection between hearing loss and diabetes is pretty well established. But why should diabetes put you at increased danger of getting loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a number of health issues, and particularly, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically harmed. One hypothesis is that the condition might affect the ears in a similar manner, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But general health management might be to blame. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans highlighted the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but most notably, it revealed that those with uncontrolled 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 important to consult with a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can lead to numerous other difficulties. Research conducted in 2012 revealed a definite connection between the danger of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have suspected that there was a relationship between the two. While investigating over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists 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. This relationship held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Within the previous 12 months people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should having difficulty hearing make you fall? While our ears have an important role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Even though the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, the authors believed that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one problem. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to your surroundings, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that managing hearing loss could possibly minimize your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure might actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen pretty persistently, even when controlling for variables such as whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: If you’re a male, the connection between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: In addition to the numerous tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one reason why individuals who have 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 principal theory for why high blood pressure could accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may possibly be injured by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you suspect you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss may put you at higher risk of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed almost 2,000 people in their 70’s during the period of six years discovered that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just mild loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar connection, even though it was less substantial.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of a person with no loss of hearing; one’s risk is nearly quintupled with extreme hearing loss.

It’s alarming stuff, but it’s important to note that while the link between hearing loss and mental decline has been well recognized, scientists have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so solidly linked. A common theory is that having problems hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In other words, because your brain is putting so much energy into comprehending the sounds near you, you might not have much energy left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social circumstances become much more difficult when you are struggling 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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