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, as hard as we might try, we can’t avoid aging. But did you recognize that loss of hearing has also been linked to between
loss issues
that can be managed, and in many cases, can be prevented? Here’s a peek at several cases that might surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were used to screen them. High frequency impairment was also possible but not as severe. It was also discovered by researchers that individuals who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent than people with healthy blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) revealed that there was a consistent connection between hearing loss and diabetes, even when when all other variables are accounted for.

So it’s well determined that diabetes is connected to a greater chance of loss of hearing. But why would you be at higher danger of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is related to a number of health problems, and particularly, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically injured. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly impacted by the disease, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it might also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but most notably, it discovered that those with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it found, suffered worse. It’s essential to get your blood sugar analyzed and speak with a doctor if you think you may have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. Similarly, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health problem, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but having a bad fall can start a cascade of health concerns. And while you might not realize that your hearing would affect your possibility of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 found a substantial connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While studying over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists discovered that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with minor hearing loss the link held up: Within the past 12 months individuals who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would having trouble hearing cause you to fall? Even though our ears play an important role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, very literally). Although this research didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, it was speculated by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) may be one problem. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it could be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with loss of hearing might potentially reduce your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (like this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been rather consistently found. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: The link between high blood pressure and loss of hearing, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: along with the many little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one reason why people with high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they are hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) The leading theory behind why high blood pressure can speed up loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you suspect you’re suffering from hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Danger of dementia may be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the risk of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar link, though a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the danger of a person without hearing loss; one’s chance is nearly quintupled with extreme loss of hearing.

However, even though scientists have been successful at documenting the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this happens. If you can’t hear very well, it’s overwhelming to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds around you, you may not have very much energy left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more overwhelming when you are struggling 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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