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HEARING TIPS

Can Other Medical Problems Result From Loss of Hearing?

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 avoided. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss concerns
that are treatable, and in certain circumstances, can be prevented? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which revealed that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when screened with mid or low-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. It was also found by investigators that people who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be defined as diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent than people with normal blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) found that the connection between diabetes and hearing loss was persistent, even while when all other variables are accounted for.

So the link between hearing loss and diabetes is pretty well demonstrated. But why should diabetes put you at higher risk of getting hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is associated with a broad range of health issues, and notably, can trigger physical injury to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the disease could affect the ears in a similar manner, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it could also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study underscored the link between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but in particular, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s important to get your blood sugar analyzed and speak to a doctor if you believe you may have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

OK, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t discussing vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health issues. And while you might not think that your hearing could affect your possibility of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 revealed a substantial connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Investigating a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase 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 individuals with mild loss of hearing: Within the past 12 months people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than people with normal hearing.

Why would you fall because you are having problems hearing? While 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, very literally). Although the reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, it was theorized by the authors that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) may be one issue. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing may potentially minimize your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure might actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found rather persistently, even when controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be gender: If you’re a man, the link between high blood pressure and hearing loss is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears not to mention the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals who have high blood pressure often experience 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.) But high blood pressure could also possibly be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would speed up hearing loss. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be injured by this. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing could put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with just minimal hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (They also uncovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the danger of a person with no hearing loss; one’s risk is raised by nearly 4 times with extreme loss of hearing.

It’s frightening information, but it’s important to recognize that while the link between hearing loss and mental decline has been well recognized, scientists have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so strongly connected. If you can’t hear very well, it’s difficult to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have much juice left for recalling things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more overwhelming when you are contending 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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