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Eastside Audiology - Issaquah, WA Eastside Audiology - Issaquah, WA

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

Aging is one of the most common indicators of hearing loss and let’s face it, try as we might, aging can’t be avoided. But were you aware hearing loss has also been linked to health problems that are treatable, and in certain situations, preventable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were applied to screen them. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. It was also revealed by analysts that people who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 % to have loss of hearing than those with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) found that there was a persistent connection between hearing loss and diabetes, even while taking into account other variables.

So the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes is very well demonstrated. But why should diabetes put you at greater risk of suffering from loss of hearing? The reason isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is associated with a number of health concerns, and particularly, can trigger physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly impacted by the condition, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management could be to blame. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes, but particularly, it discovered that those with unchecked diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. It’s important to get your blood sugar analyzed and speak to a doctor if you think you might have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Similarly, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can result in lots of other difficulties. And though you might not think that your hearing would affect your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study uncovered a considerable link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While investigating 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 danger of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Within the last 12 months individuals who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would having trouble hearing make you fall? There are numerous reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Although this research didn’t go into what was the cause of the subject’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay 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 managing loss of hearing could potentially minimize your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure may actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found rather persistently, even while controlling for variables like whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. The only variable that is important appears to be gender: If you’re a male, the connection between high blood pressure and loss of hearing is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: along with the many little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one explanation why people with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they are hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) The main theory behind why high blood pressure could quicken 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 controlled. But if you believe you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the chance of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minor 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 ten years found that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that they would develop dementia. (They also found a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the danger of someone with no loss of hearing; one’s danger is raised by nearly 4 times with significant hearing loss.

But, even though researchers have been successful at documenting the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still aren’t sure as to why this takes place. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In essence, 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. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social scenarios become much more difficult when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.

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