Aging is one of the most common signals of hearing loss and let’s face it, try as we might, we can’t avoid aging. But were you aware hearing loss has also been connected to between
loss problems that are treatable, and in certain circumstances, preventable? Here’s a look at some examples that could surprise you.
A widely-reported 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults revealed that diabetes diagnosed people were two times as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when analyzed with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. It was also found by researchers that people who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from loss of hearing than people with normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) discovered that the connection between hearing loss and diabetes was consistent, even while taking into account other variables.
So it’s well established that diabetes is connected to an increased risk of loss of hearing. But why would diabetes put you at increased risk of getting loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is related to a number of health concerns, and notably, can trigger physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly impacted by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it might also be related to general health management. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but in particular, it revealed that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it found, suffered more. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to talk to a doctor and get your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having difficulty hearing too.
All right, this is not exactly a health problem, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but having a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health concerns. Research conducted in 2012 disclosed a strong link between the chance of falling and hearing loss though you might not have thought that there was a relationship between the two. Looking at a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB increase 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: Within the previous year people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.
Why should you fall because you are having difficulty hearing? Even though our ears play a significant role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Although this study didn’t go into what was the cause of the subject’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) could be one problem. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds around you, your split attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that could end up in a fall. What’s promising here is that treating loss of hearing could potentially decrease your risk of suffering a fall.
3: High Blood Pressure
A number of studies (like this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been fairly consistently discovered. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: If you’re a man, the link between loss of hearing and high blood pressure is even stronger.
Your ears are very 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 individuals with high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is actually their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) The main theory for why high blood pressure might accelerate loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could possibly be damaged by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you think you’re dealing with loss of hearing 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 could put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only mild loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the danger of someone with no loss of hearing; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s danger.
However, though experts have been able to document the link between cognitive decline and hearing loss, they still aren’t sure as to why this occurs. A common theory is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In other words, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have much juice left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social situations become much more confusing when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.