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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 clues and let’s face it, as hard as we may try, we can’t avoid aging. But were you aware hearing loss has also been linked to health problems that can be treated, and in some cases, avoidable? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to suffer from some level of hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. It was also revealed by researchers that individuals who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely to have loss of hearing than those who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) found that the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even when controlling for other variables.

So it’s solidly established that diabetes is connected to a higher danger of loss of hearing. But why should diabetes put you at greater danger of getting hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a number of health issues, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be damaged physically. One hypothesis is that the disease may impact the ears in a similar way, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it might also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but in particular, it discovered that those with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to speak to a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a good idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having trouble hearing also.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health condition, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can start a cascade of health concerns. A study carried out in 2012 disclosed a definite connection between the danger of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have suspected that there was a relationship between the two. Looking at a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for people with mild loss of hearing: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the last year.

Why should having problems hearing cause you to fall? Even though our ears have a significant role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, very literally). Even though this study didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, it was speculated by the authors that having problems hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) could be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your divided attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with hearing loss could potentially decrease your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure might actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen pretty persistently, even while controlling for variables like whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that appears to matter: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a male, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears and additionally the little blood vessels inside them. This is one reason why individuals who have high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) The main theory for why high blood pressure could accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might potentially be damaged by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you believe you’re suffering from hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing may put you at higher risk of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after about 2,000 people in their 70’s during the period of six years discovered that the danger 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 researchers which followed people over more than ten years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that he or she would get dementia. (They also found a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically significant one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of someone without hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s danger.

But, though researchers have been successful at documenting the link 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 overwhelming to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into understanding the sounds around you, you might not have very much energy left for recalling things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more difficult when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.

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