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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 let’s be truthful, as hard as we may try, we can’t stop aging. But did you recognize that loss of hearing has also been connected to health issues that are treatable, and in certain circumstances, can be prevented? Here’s a peek at a few examples that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to suffer from some amount of hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were used to test them. High frequency impairment was also possible but not as severe. The analysts also observed that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, individuals with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 % more likely to have hearing loss than people with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that there was a absolutely consistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while controlling for other variables.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is linked to a higher risk of loss of hearing. But why would you be at higher risk of getting diabetes just because you have hearing loss? The reason isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is related to a wide variety of health concerns, and notably, can cause physical injury to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One hypothesis is that the the ears might be similarly impacted by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it could also be related to general health management. A 2015 study underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it found that those with unchecked diabetes, in other words, people suffered worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s necessary to have your blood sugar analyzed and speak with a doctor if you suspect you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested if you’re having a hard time hearing also.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can result in numerous other difficulties. And though you might not think that your hearing could impact your likelihood of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 uncovered a significant link between hearing loss and fall risk. Looking at 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 chance of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Within the last twelve months people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would having difficulty hearing make you fall? Even 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). Even though this study didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, the authors believed that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) may be one problem. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with hearing loss might possibly reduce your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (such as this one from 2018) have demonstrated that hearing loss is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure may 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. Gender is the only variable that appears to make a difference: If you’re a guy, the link between high blood pressure and loss of hearing is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears not to mention the little blood vessels inside them. This is one reason 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; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) The primary theory for why high blood pressure can quicken hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. That could possibly damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re suffering from hearing loss even if you believe you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia may be higher with hearing loss. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after almost 2,000 individuals in their 70’s during the period of six years found that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the danger of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (They also uncovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically significant one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3 times the danger of a person without loss of hearing; one’s risk is nearly quintupled with significant hearing loss.

But, though experts have been successful at documenting the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this takes place. A common theory is that having trouble 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 short circuits your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into understanding the sounds around you, you might not have very much energy left for recalling 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 hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations become much easier to handle, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the important things instead of attempting to understand what someone just said. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.

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