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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, aging can’t be avoided. But were you aware loss of hearing can lead to health concerns that are treatable, and in some cases, preventable? Here’s a look at a few examples that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults revealed that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were utilized to screen them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. The analysts also determined that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, people with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % than individuals with healthy blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) found that the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes was persistent, even while when all other variables are considered.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is very well demonstrated. But why should you be at higher danger of getting diabetes just because you have loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is related to a wide variety of health issues, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be harmed physically. One theory is that the the ears might be likewise impacted by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it could also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study that evaluated U.S. military veterans underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes, but in particular, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. It’s essential to have your blood sugar tested and speak with a doctor if you think you might have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. By the same token, if you’re having trouble 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 problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can lead to many other complications. And while you might not think that your hearing could impact your likelihood of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study uncovered a significant connection between hearing loss and fall risk. Evaluating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with minimal hearing loss the connection held up: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have fallen within the last 12 months.

Why would having trouble hearing make you fall? Though our ears have a significant role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, very literally). While the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, the authors speculated that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could end up in a fall. The good news here is that managing loss of hearing may potentially reduce your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have found that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been relatively consistently revealed. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: Two main arteries are very near to the ears and additionally the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals 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; you’re hearing your own pulse.) The leading theory behind why high blood pressure might speed up hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. 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 suspect you’re suffering from loss of hearing 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

Hearing loss may put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with just minimal hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which analyzed people over more than a decade found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would get dementia. (They also found a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the danger of somebody who doesn’t have hearing loss; one’s risk is raised by nearly 4 times with significant hearing loss.

It’s scary stuff, but it’s significant to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well documented, experts have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so solidly connected. If you can’t hear very well, it’s difficult to socialize with people so the theory is you will avoid social interactions, 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, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into understanding the sounds around you, you might not have much energy left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to deal with, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the important things instead of attempting to understand what someone just said. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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