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

Aging is one of the most typical indicators of hearing loss and let’s be honest, try as we might, we can’t stop aging. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to health issues that are treatable, and in some cases, can be prevented? You may 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 some level of hearing loss when mid or low frequency sounds were utilized to screen them. High frequency impairment was also likely but not as severe. The investigators also determined that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, individuals with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % to have hearing loss than people who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) discovered that there was a consistent connection between hearing loss and diabetes, even while when all other variables are accounted for.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is associated with a higher risk of loss of hearing. But why would diabetes put you at increased chance of suffering from loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a wide range of health problems, and particularly, can result in physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly impacted by the condition, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it could also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study underscored the link between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. It’s important to have your blood sugar checked and talk with a doctor if you believe you could have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it tested.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health issue, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but having a bad fall can start a cascade of health concerns. And though you might not think that your hearing would affect your possibility of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 found a substantial link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for those with mild loss of hearing: Within the past year individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should having trouble hearing cause you to fall? There are quite a few reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Though this research didn’t delve into what had caused the participant’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one problem. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it might be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that treating hearing loss could potentially minimize your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (such as this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as noise exposure or if you smoke, the link has been rather consistently discovered. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: along with the numerous tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one explanation 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; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) The main theory behind why high blood pressure can accelerate loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could possibly be injured by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you believe you’re suffering from hearing loss 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

Danger of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s found that the chance of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minimal hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same researchers which analyzed people over more than ten years found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more likely it was that he or she would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar link, though a less statistically significant one.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the risk of a person who doesn’t have hearing loss; one’s danger is nearly quintupled with extreme hearing loss.

However, though researchers have been successful at documenting the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss, they still aren’t sure as to why this occurs. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different hypothesis 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 much energy left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations become much easier to deal with, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the important things instead of trying to figure out what someone just said. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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