Can Other Medical Difficulties Result From Hearing Loss?

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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss indicators and let’s face it, as hard as we may try, we can’t stop aging. But did you realize that hearing loss can lead to health problems that are treatable, and in certain scenarios, can be prevented? You may be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to suffer from mild or greater hearing loss when tested with mid or low-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. The experts also discovered that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, individuals with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from loss of hearing than people who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) revealed that the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing was consistent, even while when all other variables are taken into account.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is quite well founded. But why should you be at greater risk of getting diabetes just because you have loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a number of health issues, and particularly, can result in physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the condition could affect the ears in a similar way, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it may also be related to overall health management. A 2015 study underscored the connection between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that people with unchecked diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to talk to a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. Similarly, if you’re having problems hearing, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can trigger numerous other complications. And while you may not think that your hearing could impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study uncovered a considerable link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While investigating over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for those with mild hearing loss: Within the last twelve months people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would you fall because you are having trouble hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall other than the role your ears have in balance. Even though the reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, the authors theorized that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) might 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 what’s around you, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that treating hearing loss could possibly minimize your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (including this one from 2018) have demonstrated that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have found that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen rather consistently, even when controlling for variables including whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: If you’re a man, the connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss 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 go right by it. This is one explanation why people with high blood pressure often suffer from 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 damage to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would quicken loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. That could possibly damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you believe you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing might put you at higher danger of dementia. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that followed about 2,000 people in their 70’s over the course of six years found that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which tracked subjects over more than a decade discovered that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, albeit a less statistically significant one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of someone who doesn’t have hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s danger.

However, even though experts have been able to document the connection between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still aren’t positive as to why this takes place. A common theory is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds near you, you may not have much energy left for remembering things like where you left your keys. Maintaining social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to handle, and you’ll be able to focus on the critical things instead of attempting to figure out what someone just said. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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