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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss clues and let’s be honest, as hard as we might try, aging can’t be avoided. But did you know that loss of hearing has also been linked to health issues that can be managed, and in many cases, can be prevented? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which discovered that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some degree of hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were used to test them. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. The researchers also discovered that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, individuals with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely than individuals with normal blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) found that there was a consistent association between hearing loss and diabetes, even when taking into account other variables.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is linked to an increased risk of hearing loss. But why would you be at greater risk of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a number of health concerns, and particularly, can result in physical harm to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly impacted by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But overall health management could be to blame. A 2015 study highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it revealed that those with unchecked diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to speak to a doctor and have your blood sugar checked. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested if you’re having difficulty hearing too.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can trigger many other difficulties. And though you may not think that your hearing would affect your possibility of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 revealed a considerable link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Examining a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with slight hearing loss the connection held up: Within the past 12 months people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would you fall because you are having difficulty hearing? There are several reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Though the reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, the authors theorized that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) could be one issue. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it could be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that managing hearing loss could potentially minimize your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have shown that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen rather consistently, even while controlling for variables including whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. 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 are quite closely related to your circulatory system: along with the numerous tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one reason why people who have high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately 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.) But high blood pressure might also potentially cause physical injury to your ears which is the main theory behind why it would quicken hearing loss. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could possibly be injured by this. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you suspect you’re suffering from hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss might put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the risk of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of somebody who doesn’t have loss of hearing; one’s danger is nearly quintupled with severe hearing loss.

But, though scientists have been successful at documenting the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this happens. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different theory is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In other words, trying to perceive 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. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations are easier to handle, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary stuff instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.