Can Hearing Loss Trigger Other Medical Difficulties?

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 face it, as hard as we might try, aging can’t be escaped. But did you know that hearing loss can lead to between
loss concerns
that are treatable, and in many cases, can be prevented? Here’s a look at several cases that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-quoted 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were used to test them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. The experts also found that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, people with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 % more likely than those who had healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) determined that the connection between hearing loss and diabetes was persistent, even when controlling for other variables.

So the link between hearing loss and diabetes is quite well founded. But why would you be at increased risk of getting diabetes just because you have loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is related to a number of health issues, and notably, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be harmed physically. One hypothesis is that the the ears might be similarly impacted by the condition, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management could be at fault. A 2015 study that evaluated U.S. military veterans highlighted the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but in particular, it found that individuals with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s important to have your blood sugar checked and speak to a doctor if you believe you might have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Similarly, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can trigger many other complications. And while you might not realize that your hearing could impact your possibility of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study revealed a considerable connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This link held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Within the past 12 months people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should you fall because you are having problems hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Though this study didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) may be one problem. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with hearing loss may possibly lessen your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (including this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been seen fairly consistently, even when controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that is important appears to be gender: The link between high blood pressure and loss of hearing, if your a male, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: along with the many tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one reason 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.) The primary theory for why high blood pressure might accelerate loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. That could potentially injure the smaller blood arteries in your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you believe you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss may put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minimal loss of hearing (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 risk of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar connection, though a less statistically significant one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of a person who doesn’t have hearing loss; one’s risk is raised by nearly 4 times with severe hearing loss.

But, though experts have been successful at documenting the link between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still don’t know why this takes place. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have much juice left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social scenarios become much more overwhelming when you are struggling to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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