HEARING TIPS

Hearing Loss Discovered to Be Linked to These Medical Issues

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, try as we might, aging can’t be avoided. But were you aware hearing loss has also been connected to health problems that are treatable, and in many cases, preventable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults discovered that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when analyzed with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also possible but not so severe. The researchers also found that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, individuals with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 percent to have loss of hearing than those with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that the relationship between loss of hearing and diabetes was consistent, even when taking into consideration other variables.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is quite well demonstrated. But why would diabetes put you at greater chance of getting loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health concerns, and notably, can trigger physical harm to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One hypothesis is that the the ears might be similarly impacted by the disease, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management may be at fault. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but most notably, it revealed that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to speak to a doctor and get your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a good idea to have your hearing checked if you’re having trouble hearing too.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health condition, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but going through a bad fall can start a cascade of health concerns. Research carried out in 2012 disclosed 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 trial of over 2,000 adults ages 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 individuals with minor loss of hearing the connection held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the past 12 months.

Why would having difficulty hearing make you fall? There are numerous reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Though this study didn’t delve into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) might be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near you, your divided attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that may end up in a fall. What’s promising here is that treating hearing loss may potentially reduce your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have demonstrated that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found rather persistently, even while controlling for variables like whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: The connection betweenhearing loss and high blood pressure, if your a male, is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: Two main arteries are very near to the ears and additionally the little blood vessels inside them. This is one reason why people with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is ultimately their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) The primary theory behind why high blood pressure could quicken loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you suspect you’re dealing with loss of hearing 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

Hearing loss may put you at higher danger of dementia. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that followed about 2,000 people in their 70’s over the course of six years found that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with only mild hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the chance of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the danger of a person without loss of hearing; one’s risk is raised by nearly 4 times with significant hearing loss.

It’s scary stuff, but it’s significant to recognize that while the connection between loss of hearing and mental decline has been well documented, experts have been less effective at sussing out why the two are so strongly linked. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have much energy left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social scenarios become much more difficult 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 exam.

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