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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 truth be told, as hard as we might try, aging can’t be stopped. But were you aware loss of hearing has also been connected to between
loss problems
that can be managed, and in certain circumstances, can be prevented? You may be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that evaluated over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when analyzed with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. The experts also determined 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 % than people with normal blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) found that there was a consistent association between hearing loss and diabetes, even when controlling for other variables.

So it’s well determined that diabetes is connected to a higher danger of loss of hearing. But why would diabetes put you at higher risk of suffering from hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is related to a wide range of health issues, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be injured physically. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly affected by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But general health management might be at fault. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes, but particularly, it revealed that those with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are concerned that you might be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to talk to a doctor and have your blood sugar tested. It’s a good idea to have your hearing examined if you’re having trouble hearing also.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health condition, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but going through a bad fall can start a cascade of health issues. And while you might not think that your hearing would affect your likelihood of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 found a considerable connection 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 (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with minimal loss of hearing the connection held up: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have fallen within the past year.

Why should having trouble hearing cause you to fall? Even though our ears have an important role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, quite literally). While the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, it was theorized by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) might be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could end up in a fall. The good news here is that dealing with hearing loss may possibly lessen your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (like this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found rather consistently, even while controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: The link between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: Two main arteries are very near to the ears not to mention the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why people 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; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure could also potentially cause physical injury to your ears which is the main theory behind why it would accelerate loss of hearing. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might possibly be injured by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you suspect you’re suffering with hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing might put you at higher risk of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after about 2,000 people in their 70’s over the course of six years found that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minimal loss of hearing (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 danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, though a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the risk of someone who doesn’t have loss of hearing; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s chance.

But, though experts have been able to document the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss, they still don’t know why this occurs. If you can’t hear well, it’s overwhelming to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In other words, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have very much energy left for remembering things such as where you left your keys. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to manage, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary things instead of trying to figure out what someone just said. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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