HEARING TIPS

Hearing Loss Found to Be Associated With These Medical Problems

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, aging can’t be escaped. But did you recognize that loss of hearing can lead to between
loss issues
that are treatable, and in many cases, can be prevented? You may be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which revealed that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to suffer from mild or greater hearing loss when screened with mid or low-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. It was also found by investigators that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely than people with healthy blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) revealed that the connection between hearing loss and diabetes was consistent, even when controlling for other variables.

So the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well established. But why would you be at greater danger of getting diabetes just because you have hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is related to a number of health issues, and notably, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically damaged. One theory is that the condition could affect the ears in a similar way, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it might also be related to general health management. A 2015 study underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it discovered that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s important to get your blood sugar checked and consult with a doctor if you believe you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

OK, this is not really a health issue, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health concerns. And though you might not realize that your hearing could affect your possibility of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 uncovered a significant link between hearing loss and fall risk. While examining over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with minimal hearing loss the link held up: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the last year.

Why would you fall because you are having trouble hearing? Though 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). Although the reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, the authors speculated that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one issue. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to your surroundings, it may be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that managing hearing loss could potentially decrease your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (like this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been pretty consistently discovered. 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: In addition to the countless little blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one explanation why individuals with high blood pressure often experience 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.) But high blood pressure could also potentially cause physical injury to your ears which is the main theory behind why it would quicken hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be injured by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you believe you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia might be higher with hearing loss. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after nearly 2,000 people in their 70’s during the period of six years discovered that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only minimal hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also discovered, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the risk of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar connection, albeit a less statistically significant one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the danger of a person without hearing loss; severe hearing loss raises the risk by 4 times.

But, though scientists have been able to document the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this takes place. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much energy into comprehending the sounds around you, you may not have much energy 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 loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations are easier to handle, and you’ll be able to focus on the important things instead of trying to understand what someone just said. 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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