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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, try as we may, aging can’t be avoided. But did you recognize that hearing loss has also been linked to between
loss concerns
that are treatable, and in some cases, can be prevented? Here’s a look at some cases that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that evaluated over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to suffer from mild or greater hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. It was also revealed by analysts that people who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 % to have hearing loss than those with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) determined that the link between diabetes and loss of hearing was consistent, even while taking into account other variables.

So the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes is very well established. But why should you be at greater danger of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a wide variety of health concerns, and in particular, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically injured. One theory is that the condition may affect the ears in a similar manner, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it might also be associated with overall health management. A 2015 study underscored the link between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it discovered that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to consult with a doctor and get your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health problems. A study conducted in 2012 uncovered a strong link between the risk of falling and hearing loss though you might not have thought that there was a link between the two. Evaluating a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for people with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the previous 12 months.

Why should having difficulty hearing make you fall? While our ears have an important role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, very literally). Although the exact reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, the authors speculated that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one problem. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing could potentially reduce your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been pretty persistently found. The only variable that matters appears to be gender: The link between high blood pressure and loss of hearing, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears and additionally the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals who have high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is ultimately their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your own pulse.) The primary theory behind why high blood pressure might quicken loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could possibly be injured by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re experiencing 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

Danger of dementia may be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only mild loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also discovered, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the danger of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (They also found a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of a person with no hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s risk.

It’s alarming stuff, but it’s important to recognize that while the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well documented, scientists have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so solidly linked. A common theory is that having problems hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so you might not have very much energy left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more difficult when you are contending to hear what people are saying. 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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