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HEARING TIPS

Can Loss of Hearing Result in Other Medical Difficulties?

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 truth be told, try as we might, aging can’t be avoided. But did you recognize that hearing loss can lead to between
loss problems
that can be treated, and in many cases, can be avoided? Here’s a peek at some examples that might surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which found that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when mid or low frequency sounds were used to screen them. High frequency impairment was also likely but not as severe. The analysts also determined that individuals who were pre-diabetic, put simply, people with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from hearing loss than individuals who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) revealed that there was a consistent connection between hearing loss and diabetes, even while when all other variables are considered.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is associated with a greater danger of loss of hearing. But why should diabetes put you at greater risk of suffering from hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a broad range of health concerns, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically harmed. One theory is that the condition may impact the ears in a similar manner, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But general health management could be the culprit. A 2015 study highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to speak to a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. Also, if you’re having problems hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can lead to many other complications. A study performed in 2012 uncovered a strong link between the danger of falling and hearing loss though you may not have thought that there was a connection between the two. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This link held up even for people with mild loss of hearing: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have had a fall within the past year.

Why would having difficulty hearing make you fall? Though our ears play a significant role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Although this research didn’t delve into what was the cause of the subject’s falls, the authors speculated that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) could be one problem. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it could be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that treating loss of hearing might possibly lessen your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (such as this one from 2018) have demonstrated that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been fairly persistently discovered. The only variable that matters appears to be gender: The connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: along with the countless little blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one reason why individuals with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) The leading theory for why high blood pressure might quicken loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. That could possibly injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you suspect you’re experiencing hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia may be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s found that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only 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 group of researchers, that the risk of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (They also discovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the risk of a person with no loss of hearing; one’s chance is raised by nearly 4 times with extreme hearing loss.

It’s alarming information, but it’s essential to recognize that while the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well documented, experts have been less effective at sussing out why the two are so solidly connected. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to interact with people so the theory is you will avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much energy into comprehending the sounds near you, you might not have much juice left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social scenarios become much more confusing when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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