Hearing Assessment Center, LLC - Lutherville, Bel Air, and  Nottingham, MD

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

Aging is one of the most common indicators of hearing loss and let’s be honest, try as we may, aging can’t be escaped. But did you realize that loss of hearing can lead to health concerns that can be managed, and in certain situations, can be avoided? Here’s a look at several examples that might surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which discovered that diabetes diagnosed people were two times as likely to suffer from some amount of hearing loss when low or mid frequency sounds were used to screen them. High frequency impairment was also possible but not as severe. It was also discovered by researchers that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent than those with normal blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) discovered that there was a consistent connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while when all other variables are taken into account.

So it’s well determined that diabetes is linked to a higher danger of hearing loss. But why should you be at greater risk of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from loss of hearing? The reason isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is related to a number of health concerns, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically damaged. One theory is that the the ears could be similarly affected by the condition, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it might also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but most notably, it revealed that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s necessary to have your blood sugar checked and consult with a doctor if you believe you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. It’s a good idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having a hard time hearing also.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can trigger numerous other complications. And though you might not realize that your hearing could impact your likelihood of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 found a substantial connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Evaluating a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This link held up even for individuals with mild hearing loss: Within the last 12 months people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than people with normal hearing.

Why should having trouble hearing cause you to fall? There are numerous reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Though this research didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, the authors speculated that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) might be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you may be paying less attention to your physical environment and that may lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that treating loss of hearing may possibly minimize your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (including this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure might actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found rather consistently, even while controlling for variables including whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that appears to matter: The connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: along with the many little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one explanation why individuals who have 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; you’re hearing your own pulse.) The primary theory behind why high blood pressure might speed up loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. That could possibly damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you think you’re suffering with hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss could put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s discovered that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same research group which tracked people over more than 10 years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more probably it was that they would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these conclusions, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3 times the risk of someone without loss of hearing; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s chance.

It’s frightening stuff, but it’s significant to note that while the connection between loss of hearing and mental decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so strongly linked. A common hypothesis is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different 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 energy left for remembering things like where you left your keys. Staying in close communication with friends and family and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations become much easier to manage, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the important things instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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