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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 face it, try as we might, we can’t escape aging. But were you aware loss of hearing has also been connected to health problems that are treatable, and in some cases, can be avoided? Here’s a look at various examples that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which found that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to have some level of hearing loss when mid or low frequency sounds were utilized to screen them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also determined by researchers that people who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent than those who had healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) found that the relationship between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even when when all other variables are considered.

So the link between hearing loss and diabetes is very well demonstrated. But why would you be at greater risk of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is related to a wide variety of health problems, and notably, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be harmed physically. One theory is that the the ears might be likewise impacted by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But general health management might be at fault. A 2015 study underscored the link between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but most notably, it revealed that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to talk to a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. Also, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can result in many other difficulties. A study conducted in 2012 disclosed a strong connection between the chance of falling and hearing loss though you may not have thought that there was a connection between the two. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with minimal loss of hearing the link held up: Within the last 12 months individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than people with normal hearing.

Why would you fall just because you are having problems hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Even though the reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, it was speculated by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) might be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near you, your divided attention means you might be paying less attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing might possibly decrease your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety 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 research) have found that high blood pressure may actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found rather 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 darn 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 people with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s actually 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 might also possibly cause physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would speed up hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. 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 believe you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed nearly 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years discovered that the chance of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same researchers which followed people over more than ten years discovered that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would get dementia. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less significant.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the danger of a person without hearing loss; severe loss of hearing raises the danger by 4 times.

It’s alarming information, but it’s significant to note that while the link between hearing loss and mental decline has been well recognized, scientists have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so strongly linked. A common theory is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In other words, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into understanding the sounds near you, you may not have very much energy left for recalling things like where you left your keys. Staying in close communication with friends and family and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social situations become much more difficult when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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