HEARING TIPS

Hearing Loss Found to Be Connected to These Medical Conditions

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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss indicators and let’s be honest, as hard as we might try, we can’t stop aging. But did you know that hearing loss has also been linked to health concerns that can be managed, and in certain scenarios, can be prevented? Here’s a peek at several examples that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were utilized to test them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. The analysts also observed that individuals who were pre-diabetic, put simply, individuals with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % to have loss of hearing than people with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) found that the link between loss of hearing and diabetes was persistent, even while taking into consideration other variables.

So the association between loss of hearing and diabetes is quite well founded. But why would you be at greater danger of getting diabetes simply because you have hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is related to a broad range of health issues, and in particular, can trigger physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the condition may affect the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But general health management might be the culprit. A 2015 study underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it revealed that those with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to talk to a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. It’s a good idea to have your hearing examined if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can lead to many other complications. And though you might not think that your hearing could affect your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study found a substantial link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While investigating over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with mild loss of hearing the connection held up: Within the last year individuals who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than people with normal hearing.

Why should having trouble hearing make you fall? While our ears play a significant role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, quite literally). While this research didn’t delve into what had caused the participant’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) may 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 might be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that treating hearing loss may potentially minimize your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure might actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been fairly persistently found. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be gender: If you’re a guy, the link 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: along with the countless tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one explanation why people with high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is actually their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure may also possibly be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would speed up loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might potentially be damaged by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re suffering from loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss could put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which tracked people over more than ten years found that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more probably it was that they would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar connection, albeit a less statistically significant one.) Based on these findings, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3 times the risk of someone without hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s chance.

However, though researchers have been successful at documenting the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still aren’t positive as to why this occurs. A common hypothesis is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have very much juice left for recalling things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations are easier to deal with, and you’ll be able to focus 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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