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

Aging is one of the most typical indicators of hearing loss and truth be told, try as we may, aging can’t be stopped. But did you know that hearing loss has also been linked to health problems that can be managed, and in certain circumstances, avoidable? Here’s a look at several cases that might surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also possible but less severe. The researchers also discovered that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, those with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 percent than people who had healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) revealed that the link between loss of hearing and diabetes was consistent, even when taking into account other variables.

So it’s solidly established that diabetes is associated with a higher chance of hearing loss. But why would you be at higher risk of getting diabetes just because you have loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a wide variety of health concerns, and in particular, can trigger physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One hypothesis is that the the ears may be likewise impacted by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But general health management might be to blame. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans underscored the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but particularly, it revealed that people with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s essential to have your blood sugar checked and consult with a doctor if you suspect you could have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing examined if you’re having trouble hearing also.

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 many other difficulties. And while you may not think that your hearing would impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study uncovered a considerable link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Evaluating a trial of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, investigators discovered that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for those with mild hearing loss: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the last year.

Why would having trouble hearing make you fall? There are a number of reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall aside from the role your ears play in balance. While the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, the authors believed that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) may be one problem. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to what’s around you, it might be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with hearing loss might possibly lessen your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure may actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen fairly consistently, even when controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that is important appears to be sex: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears and additionally the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals who have high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is ultimately their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure could also possibly cause physical injury to your ears which is the main 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 potentially injure the smaller blood arteries in your ears. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you think you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same researchers which followed subjects over more than ten 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 connection, even though it was less significant.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the risk of someone without loss of hearing; one’s chance is raised by nearly 4 times with significant hearing loss.

It’s frightening stuff, but it’s important to note that while the link between hearing loss and mental decline has been well documented, experts have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so solidly connected. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. In other words, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have much energy left for remembering things such as where you put your keys. Staying in close communication with friends and family 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 are easier to handle, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the necessary things instead of attempting to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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