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

Aging is one of the most typical indicators of hearing loss and let’s face it, as hard as we might try, we can’t escape aging. But were you aware hearing loss has also been linked to between
loss issues
that are treatable, and in many cases, can be prevented? You may be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed people were two times as likely to suffer from mild or greater hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. It was also revealed by researchers that people who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 % more likely to have hearing loss than people with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) found that there was a persistent association between hearing loss and diabetes, even when when all other variables are accounted for.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well established. But why should diabetes put you at greater danger of getting hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a wide variety of health problems, and notably, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be harmed physically. One hypothesis is that the the ears may be similarly affected by the disease, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it may also be related to general health management. A 2015 study highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it revealed that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a good idea to have your hearing checked if you’re having trouble hearing also.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can result in lots of other difficulties. A study performed in 2012 showed a strong link between the chance of falling and hearing loss though you may not have suspected that there was a connection between the two. Looking at a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers found 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 individuals with mild hearing loss: Within the previous 12 months individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than people with normal hearing.

Why would you fall just because you are having problems hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. While this research didn’t go into what had caused the participant’s falls, the authors theorized that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one problem. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you may be paying less attention to your physical environment and that could end up in a fall. The good news here is that treating hearing loss may potentially minimize your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (like this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found pretty consistently, even while controlling for variables including noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: along with the numerous little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one reason why individuals who have high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s actually their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) The leading theory for why high blood pressure can speed up loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. That could possibly damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you believe you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you believe 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 might be higher with hearing loss. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these findings, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3 times the risk of somebody who doesn’t have hearing loss; one’s chance is nearly quintupled with extreme hearing loss.

But, even though experts have been successful at documenting the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss, they still aren’t sure as to why this takes place. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In essence, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have very much energy left for recalling things like where you put your keys. Staying in close communication with friends and family and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social scenarios become much more difficult when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.

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