Hearing Health Blog

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

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

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to suffer from mild or more hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were used to screen them. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. The experts also found 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 30 % more likely 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 there was a absolutely consistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while taking into consideration other variables.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is linked to an increased danger of loss of hearing. But why should you be at greater danger of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well known. Diabetes is connected to a broad range of health concerns, and in particular, can cause physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly affected by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But general health management might be at fault. A 2015 study underscored the link between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but in particular, it revealed that people with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it found, suffered more. It’s important to have your blood sugar checked and speak with a doctor if you suspect 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 examined.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health issue, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health problems. Research performed in 2012 showed a definite link between the chance of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have thought that there was a link between the two. While studying over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists discovered that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for people with mild hearing loss: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those who had normal hearing to have had a fall within the past twelve months.

Why would having difficulty hearing make you fall? There are a number of reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Even though this study didn’t go into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having problems hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) may be one issue. 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 could be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with hearing loss could possibly minimize your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (like this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure might actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been pretty consistently found. Gender is the only variable that appears to matter: If you’re a guy, the connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: In addition to the many little blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one reason why people with 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 own pulse your hearing.) The leading theory behind 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. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be injured by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you believe you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing might put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with just minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same researchers which followed subjects over more than 10 years revealed that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that he or she would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found 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 a person without loss of hearing; severe hearing loss raises the chance by 4 times.

It’s scary information, but it’s important to recognize that while the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well recognized, experts have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so solidly connected. 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 debilitating. Another theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. Essentially, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have very much juice left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more overwhelming when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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