Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss clues and let’s face it, try as we may, aging can’t be escaped. But were you aware hearing loss has also been connected to health issues that can be treated, and in many cases, can be avoided? You might be surprised by these examples.
Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which revealed that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have some degree of hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were used to screen them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. It was also found by investigators that people who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely than people who had healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that there was a persistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even while controlling for other variables.
So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well founded. But why should you be at increased risk of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health problems, and particularly, can trigger physical damage to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the the ears could be likewise affected by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But general health management might be at fault. A 2015 study that evaluated U.S. military veterans underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes, but particularly, it found that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, people suffered worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. If you are concerned 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 checked if you’re having difficulty hearing too.
You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can result in lots of other complications. A study carried out in 2012 showed a strong link between the chance of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have thought that there was a relationship between the two. While examining over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with slight hearing loss the relationship held up: Within the last 12 months people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than individuals with normal hearing.
Why should having trouble hearing make you fall? Though our ears have a significant role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, very literally). Although the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, it was suspected by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that treating hearing loss may possibly reduce your risk of having a fall.
3: High Blood Pressure
A variety of studies (including this one from 2018) have shown that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have found that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found fairly persistently, even when controlling for variables including whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be sex: The link between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a man, is even stronger.
Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: In addition to the numerous tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one reason why individuals who have high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) The main 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. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you suspect you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.
Hearing loss might put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which followed people over more than a decade discovered that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that he or she would develop dementia. (They also discovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically significant one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the danger of a person with no hearing loss; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s risk.
But, though experts have been able to document the connection between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still don’t know why this takes place. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. Essentially, trying to perceive sounds around you exhausts your brain so 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 keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations become much easier to deal with, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary stuff instead of attempting to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.