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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss clues and truth be told, try as we might, we can’t avoid aging. But did you recognize that loss of hearing has also been linked to between
loss issues
that are treatable, and in many cases, can be avoided? Here’s a peek at several cases that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which revealed that individuals who had been diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were applied to test them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. The researchers also found that individuals who were pre-diabetic, put simply, individuals with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % to suffer from hearing loss than those with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) determined that there was a absolutely consistent association between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when taking into account other variables.

So it’s solidly established that diabetes is connected to an increased chance of hearing loss. But why should you be at increased danger of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a wide range of health problems, and in particular, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically damaged. One theory is that the the ears might be similarly impacted by the condition, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it could also be related to overall health management. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans highlighted the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but particularly, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested if you’re having a hard time hearing also.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but having a bad fall can start a cascade of health problems. And while you might not think that your hearing could affect your possibility of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study found a considerable link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with minor loss of hearing the link held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those who had normal hearing to have had a fall within the previous twelve months.

Why should you fall because you are having difficulty 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 this research didn’t go into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, the authors believed that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) could be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you might be paying less attention to your physical environment and that may end up in a fall. What’s promising here is that managing hearing loss could potentially minimize your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen rather consistently, even when controlling for variables such as noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be gender: The connection betweenhearing loss and high blood pressure, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: along with the countless little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one reason why individuals who have 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; you’re hearing your pulse.) But high blood pressure might also possibly cause physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would speed up hearing loss. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may possibly be damaged by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you suspect you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss may put you at higher risk of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed about 2,000 people in their 70’s over the course of six years discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minimal hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the risk of somebody who doesn’t have hearing loss; one’s danger is nearly quintupled with significant loss of hearing.

However, even though experts have been able to document the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this occurs. A common hypothesis is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much energy into comprehending the sounds near you, you may not have very much juice left for remembering things like where you left your keys. 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 manage, and you’ll be able to focus on the important things instead of trying to figure out what someone just said. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.