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

Aging is one of the most common indicators of hearing loss and let’s be honest, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be stopped. But did you know that loss of hearing has also been connected to health concerns that are treatable, and in many cases, avoidable? Here’s a peek at several examples that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have some level of hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were applied to test them. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. The experts also observed that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, individuals with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 percent than people with healthy blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) found that the link between hearing loss and diabetes was persistent, even while when all other variables are considered.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is very well established. But why would you be at increased risk of getting diabetes simply because you have hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is linked to a wide variety of health concerns, and notably, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically injured. One theory is that the disease may impact the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But overall health management may be to blame. A 2015 study highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but most notably, it revealed 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 are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it tested.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health problem, since we aren’t discussing vertigo, but going through a bad fall can start a cascade of health problems. And while you may not realize that your hearing would affect your possibility of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 found a substantial connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Investigating a trial of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with slight loss of hearing the connection held up: Within the previous 12 months people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would having problems hearing make you fall? There are several reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Although the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, the authors believed that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) could be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you might be paying less attention to your physical environment and that could end up in a fall. The good news here is that managing hearing loss might possibly minimize your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have demonstrated that hearing loss is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been seen pretty consistently, even when controlling for variables such as noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: If you’re a male, the connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears as well as the little blood vessels inside them. 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 might also potentially be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would speed up loss of hearing. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might potentially be injured by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you suspect you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia may be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s found that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also discovered, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the risk of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the danger of a person without hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s risk.

But, even though scientists have been successful at documenting the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this happens. If you can’t hear very well, it’s difficult to interact with people so the theory is you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have much juice left for remembering things like where you put your keys. Staying in close communication with friends and family and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations are easier to manage, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the necessary stuff instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.