HEARING TIPS

Can Hearing Loss Lead to Other Medical Problems?

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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss clues and let’s face it, as hard as we may try, we can’t escape aging. But did you recognize that loss of hearing can lead to between
loss concerns
that can be treated, and in many cases, can be avoided? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to suffer from some level of hearing loss when analyzed with mid or low-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. It was also found by investigators that individuals who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 % more likely to have hearing loss than people with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that the relationship between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even while when all other variables are considered.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is very well established. But why would diabetes put you at greater risk of getting hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a number of health problems, and notably, can result in physical injury to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the the ears might be similarly impacted by the condition, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management might be to blame. A 2015 study highlighted the link between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but in particular, it revealed that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s important to have your blood sugar checked and talk with a doctor if you think you might have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. Similarly, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health problems. And though you might not realize that your hearing would affect your likelihood of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 found a considerable link between hearing loss and fall risk. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for people with mild hearing loss: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have had a fall within the last twelve months.

Why would you fall because you are having trouble hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Though the reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, it was suspected by the authors that having problems hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may 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 may be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that treating hearing loss could potentially decrease your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (like this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have shown that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been relatively persistently found. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: If you’re a man, the link between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: In addition to the numerous tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one reason why individuals with 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 pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure may also possibly be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would quicken loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be damaged by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you believe you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed about 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years found that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just mild loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which tracked subjects over more than 10 years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that they would develop dementia. (They also discovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, though a less statistically substantial one.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of someone without loss of hearing; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s danger.

It’s scary information, but it’s important to note that while the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well recognized, experts have been less effective at sussing out why the two are so solidly connected. A common hypothesis is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In other words, because your brain is putting so much energy into understanding the sounds near you, you may not have very much energy left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations become much easier to manage, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary stuff instead of attempting to figure out what someone just said. 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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