Several Medical Problems Have Been Associated With Hearing Loss

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 be truthful, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be escaped. But were you aware hearing loss has also been linked to between
loss issues
that are treatable, and in some cases, avoidable? Here’s a peek at some examples that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which revealed that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. It was also revealed by analysts that people who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from hearing loss than those who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that there was a persistent connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while when all other variables are accounted for.

So it’s solidly established that diabetes is connected to a greater chance of loss of hearing. But why should you be at higher danger of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from hearing loss? The reason isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is associated with a wide variety of health issues, and notably, can cause physical harm to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the the ears might be likewise impacted by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But overall health management might be at fault. A 2015 study that evaluated U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, but in particular, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to consult with a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. Similarly, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

OK, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but having a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health problems. Research conducted in 2012 showed a strong connection between the danger of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have thought that there was a link between the two. While studying over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This link held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Within the past 12 months people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would having problems hearing make you fall? There are numerous reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall aside from the role your ears have in balance. Although this study didn’t go into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) could 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 could be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that treating hearing loss may potentially minimize your chance 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 associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been rather persistently found. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be sex: If you’re a man, the link between high blood pressure and loss of hearing 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 explanation why people with 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; you’re hearing your own pulse.) But high blood pressure may also potentially cause physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would quicken hearing loss. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. That could possibly damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you suspect you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing might put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s found that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same research group which followed people over more than 10 years found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would develop dementia. (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 risk of someone without hearing loss; one’s risk is raised by nearly 4 times with extreme hearing loss.

But, 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 difficult to socialize with people so the theory is you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much energy into understanding the sounds near you, you might not have very much energy left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. 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 getting a hearing test.

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