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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss clues and truth be told, try as we might, aging can’t be stopped. But did you recognize that loss of hearing can lead to health concerns that are treatable, and in certain scenarios, avoidable? Here’s a look at a few cases that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which revealed that diabetes diagnosed people were two times as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were used to screen them. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. The researchers also observed that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, those with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % to have loss of hearing than those who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) determined that the relationship between loss of hearing and diabetes was persistent, even while taking into consideration other variables.

So the connection between hearing loss and diabetes is very well founded. But why would you be at greater risk of getting diabetes just because you have hearing loss? The reason isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is related to a wide variety of health problems, and notably, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be harmed physically. One hypothesis is that the condition may affect the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it may also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, but most notably, it found that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s essential to have your blood sugar checked and speak to a doctor if you think you may have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing tested if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health problem, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health concerns. And while you might not realize that your hearing could affect your likelihood of tripping or slipping, research from 2012 revealed a considerable connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Examining a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with minor loss of hearing the connection held up: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the previous year.

Why would you fall because you are having trouble hearing? Even though our ears play an important role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, very literally). While this research didn’t delve into what had caused the subject’s falls, the authors speculated that having problems hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) might 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. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing might potentially reduce your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (like this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been fairly consistently revealed. Gender is the only variable that appears to make a difference: The link between high blood pressure and loss of hearing, if your a male, is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: In addition to the many little blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one explanation why people who have high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is ultimately their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) The leading theory for why high blood pressure could speed up hearing loss 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 possibly injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you think you’re suffering from loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing may put you at higher danger of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed nearly 2,000 individuals in their 70’s during the period of six years found that the chance of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only minimal hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically significant one.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of a person with no hearing loss; one’s chance is raised by nearly 4 times with severe loss of hearing.

But, even though experts have been successful at documenting the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still aren’t positive as to why this occurs. A common hypothesis is that having problems hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have very much energy left for recalling things like where you put your keys. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. Social scenarios become much more confusing when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.

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