Hearing Loss Discovered to Be Associated With These Medical Issues

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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss clues and let’s face it, try as we may, we can’t avoid aging. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss problems
that are treatable, and in many cases, can be avoided? Here’s a peek at several examples that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to suffer from 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 revealed by researchers that individuals who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely than individuals who had normal blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) revealed that there was a absolutely consistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when when all other variables are taken into account.

So it’s pretty well determined that diabetes is associated with an increased chance of loss of hearing. But why would diabetes put you at increased risk of suffering from loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a wide variety of health concerns, and notably, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically damaged. One theory is that the the ears could be similarly impacted by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it could also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it discovered that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s important to get your blood sugar tested and speak with a doctor if you believe you could have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing checked if you’re having difficulty hearing also.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can trigger many other complications. And though you may not think that your hearing could impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study uncovered a significant link between hearing loss and fall risk. While examining over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with mild loss of hearing the relationship held up: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have fallen within the last 12 months.

Why would having difficulty hearing make you fall? Even though our ears play a significant role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, very literally). Although the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, the authors theorized that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) may be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near 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 managing loss of hearing may possibly decrease your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (including this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have shown that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found pretty persistently, even while controlling for variables such as whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: If you’re a male, the connection between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: Two main arteries are very near to the ears and additionally the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one reason why people who have high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) The primary theory behind why high blood pressure could speed up hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might potentially be damaged by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss could put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only 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 research group, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (They also found a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less significant.) Based on these findings, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3 times the danger of someone with no loss of hearing; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s chance.

It’s scary stuff, but it’s important to recognize that while the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well documented, experts have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so solidly connected. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so you might not have much energy left for recalling things such as where you left your keys. Maintaining social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social situations become much more overwhelming 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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