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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss clues and let’s face it, try as we may, we can’t escape aging. But were you aware loss of hearing has also been linked to between
loss concerns
that are treatable, and in certain situations, avoidable? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which revealed that diabetes diagnosed people were two times as likely to suffer from mild or greater hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. The investigators also determined that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in other words, individuals with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely than individuals with healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) determined that the connection between hearing loss and diabetes was persistent, even while taking into account other variables.

So the association between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well established. But why should diabetes put you at greater chance of getting loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide variety of health issues, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be injured physically. One theory is that the the ears could be likewise affected by the disease, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management could be the culprit. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes, but most notably, it revealed that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. If you are concerned that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to consult with a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t discussing vertigo, but going through a bad fall can start a cascade of health issues. And though you may not think that your hearing would impact your possibility of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 found a considerable link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Examining a sample of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with mild hearing loss the connection held up: 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 past twelve months.

Why would you fall because you are having trouble hearing? While our ears play a significant role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, very literally). Even 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 significant sounds) might 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 minimize your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (including this one from 2018) have demonstrated that hearing loss is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure might actually quicken age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been rather persistently found. The only variable that matters appears to be gender: If you’re a man, the link between loss of hearing and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears as well as the tiny 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 are hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) The principal theory for why high blood pressure could speed up hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force behind each beat. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may possibly be injured by this. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re suffering with hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia might be higher with hearing loss. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after nearly 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years found that the chance of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minimal loss of hearing (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 danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (They also discovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically significant one.) Based on these findings, moderate loss of hearing puts you at three times the danger of someone without hearing loss; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s danger.

It’s scary stuff, but it’s essential to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and mental decline has been well recognized, experts have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so strongly linked. If you can’t hear well, it’s difficult to socialize 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 hearing loss overloads your brain. In other words, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have much energy left for recalling things like where you left your keys. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social scenarios become much more overwhelming 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 getting a hearing test.

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