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

Aging is one of the most common signals of hearing loss and let’s face it, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be escaped. But were you aware loss of hearing has also been linked to health problems that are treatable, and in certain situations, can be prevented? You may be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults revealed that people who had been diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when tested with mid or low-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. It was also found by investigators that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent to have hearing loss than individuals with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) found that there was a absolutely consistent connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while controlling for other variables.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is linked to a higher danger of hearing loss. But why should diabetes put you at increased chance of getting loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health problems, and in particular, can trigger physical harm to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the condition may affect the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But general health management might be at fault. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but particularly, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it found, suffered worse. It’s essential to get your blood sugar checked and consult with a doctor if you believe you may have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. Also, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can result in numerous other difficulties. And while you may not realize that your hearing would affect your likelihood of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 found a considerable link between hearing loss and fall risk. While studying over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, investigators 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 link held up even for those with mild hearing loss: Within the past year people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should you fall because you are having trouble hearing? There are a number of reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Even though this study didn’t delve into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) might be one problem. 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 dealing with hearing loss could potentially decrease your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been relatively persistently revealed. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be sex: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a male, is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: along with the countless tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one explanation why individuals with 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 leading theory behind why high blood pressure can speed up loss of hearing 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. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing could put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (They also uncovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically substantial one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the danger of a person without hearing loss; one’s danger is nearly quintupled with extreme loss of hearing.

It’s frightening stuff, but it’s significant to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so strongly connected. A common theory is that having problems hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you might not have very much juice left for remembering 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 dealing with loss of hearing. Social circumstances become much more confusing when you are struggling to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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