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Robby Young's Hearing Aid Center - Coachella Valley, CA

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 be honest, as hard as we might try, we can’t escape aging. But were you aware loss of hearing has also been connected to health concerns that can be managed, and in many cases, can be prevented? Here’s a look at various cases that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when analyzed with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also possible but not as severe. It was also determined by analysts that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be defined as diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 % than individuals who had normal blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) found that the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even while when all other variables are accounted for.

So the connection between hearing loss and diabetes is quite well demonstrated. But why should you be at increased danger of getting diabetes just because you have hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is related to a wide variety of health concerns, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be damaged physically. One theory is that the disease might impact the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But general health management might be at fault. A 2015 study highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it found that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. It’s important to get your blood sugar analyzed and talk with a doctor if you suspect you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. By the same token, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it tested.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can trigger many other difficulties. A study conducted in 2012 revealed a definite link between the risk of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have thought that there was a connection between the two. Looking at a trial of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This link held up even for people with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have had a fall within the previous 12 months.

Why would you fall because you are having problems hearing? 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, quite literally). Although the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, the authors believed that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) could be one issue. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to your surroundings, it could be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that treating loss of hearing might possibly reduce your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (like this one from 2018) have demonstrated that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found rather consistently, even while controlling for variables such as noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: If you’re a male, the connection between loss of hearing and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: along with the many tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one reason why individuals with high blood pressure often suffer from 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 pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure might also potentially be the cause of physical damage to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would accelerate loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may potentially be injured by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you suspect you’re experiencing hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Danger of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, begun in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (They also discovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically significant one.) Based on these findings, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3X the danger of somebody who doesn’t have loss of hearing; severe loss of hearing raises the danger by 4 times.

But, though experts have been able to document the link between cognitive decline and hearing loss, they still aren’t positive as to why this takes place. If you can’t hear well, it’s overwhelming to interact with people so the theory is you will avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In other words, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into understanding the sounds around you, you might not have very much juice left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations are easier to deal with, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary stuff instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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