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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss indicators and let’s face it, try as we might, we can’t stop aging. But did you recognize that loss of hearing has also been linked to between
loss issues
that can be treated, and in many cases, can be prevented? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which revealed that individuals who had been diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to suffer from mild or more hearing loss when analyzed with mid or low-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. The experts also observed that individuals who were pre-diabetic, put simply, individuals with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % than individuals who had 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 persistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even when when all other variables are accounted for.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is quite well demonstrated. But why would you be at increased danger of getting diabetes simply because you have hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a number of health concerns, and particularly, can result in physical harm to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One hypothesis is that the the ears might be similarly affected by the disease, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But it could also be related to general health management. A 2015 study highlighted the link between diabetes and loss of hearing in U.S veterans, but particularly, it found that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. It’s important to have your blood sugar tested and talk with a doctor if you believe you could have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Similarly, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can trigger lots of other difficulties. And though you might not think that your hearing could affect your possibility of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 found a significant connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While examining over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for those with mild loss of hearing: Within the last year people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than people with normal hearing.

Why should having trouble hearing cause you to fall? There are quite a few reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Though the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, it was suspected by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) could be one issue. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to your surroundings, it might be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that treating loss of hearing could possibly decrease your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (including this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been fairly persistently found. Gender is the only variable that appears 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 numerous tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one reason why individuals who have high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) But high blood pressure could also potentially be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would speed up loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. That could possibly damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you believe you’re suffering from loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing may put you at higher danger of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after almost 2,000 people in their 70’s over the course of six years revealed that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which followed people over more than 10 years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that they would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar link, even though it was less significant.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the risk of somebody without hearing loss; one’s risk is nearly quintupled with extreme hearing loss.

It’s frightening information, but it’s essential to note that while the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well documented, experts have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so strongly linked. If you can’t hear very well, it’s overwhelming to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds near you, you may not have very much juice left for recalling things such as 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 loss of hearing. Social scenarios become much more difficult when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.