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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss indicators and truth be told, try as we may, we can’t stop aging. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to health concerns that can be treated, and in some cases, preventable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults discovered that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. It was also revealed by investigators that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 % than individuals with healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that the link between diabetes and loss of hearing was consistent, even when when all other variables are taken into account.

So the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes is quite well founded. But why should you be at greater danger of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a broad range of health concerns, and notably, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically damaged. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly affected by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But it could also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but most notably, it revealed that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to speak to a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. Also, if you’re having problems hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can lead to numerous other complications. Research carried out in 2012 uncovered a definite connection between the risk of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have suspected that there was a connection between the two. Evaluating a sample of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, investigators discovered that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This link held up even for those with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have fallen within the previous 12 months.

Why would having problems hearing cause you to fall? There are a number of reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall aside from the role your ears have in balance. Although the reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, it was theorized by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s around 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 concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to what’s around you, it could be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that treating hearing loss may potentially decrease your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found rather persistently, even when controlling for variables such as noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: The connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears as well as the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals who have high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s actually their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure may also potentially be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would speed up loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be damaged by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you believe you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia may be higher with hearing loss. A six year study, begun in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (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 when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would develop dementia. (They also uncovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the danger of someone with no hearing loss; one’s chance is nearly quintupled with significant loss of hearing.

But, even though scientists have been able to document the connection between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still don’t know why this happens. 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 incapacitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so 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 situations become much more confusing when you are struggling to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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