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

Aging is one of the most typical signals of hearing loss and truth be told, as hard as we might try, aging can’t be stopped. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to health issues that are treatable, and in many cases, avoidable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that evaluated over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed people were two times as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when tested with mid or low-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but not so severe. It was also determined by investigators that people who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely than those who had healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) discovered that the connection between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even when taking into consideration other variables.

So the link between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well demonstrated. But why would diabetes put you at increased danger of getting hearing loss? The answer isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is related to a broad range of health concerns, and notably, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be damaged physically. One theory is that the condition could affect the ears in a similar manner, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But it may also be related to overall health management. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the link between hearing loss and diabetes, but in particular, it discovered that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, people suffered worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s necessary to have your blood sugar checked and consult with a doctor if you think you could have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing tested if you’re having trouble hearing too.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health issue, because it’s not vertigo but it can result in lots of other difficulties. And though you might not realize that your hearing would impact your possibility of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study uncovered a substantial link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. Evaluating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This link held up even for people with mild loss of hearing: Within the previous year people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would having problems hearing cause you to fall? There are a number of reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Even though the reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t investigated in this study,, the authors believed that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) may be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near you, your divided attention means you might be paying less attention to your physical environment and that could lead to a fall. The good news here is that managing loss of hearing could possibly reduce your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been found rather persistently, even when controlling for variables including whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: The link betweenhearing loss and high blood pressure, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears as well as the tiny blood vessels inside them. This is one reason why people who have high blood pressure often suffer from 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.) But high blood pressure could also potentially be the cause of physical damage to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would accelerate hearing loss. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might possibly be damaged by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after almost 2,000 people in their 70’s over the course of six years revealed that the risk 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 research group which analyzed subjects over more than 10 years found that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that he or she would develop dementia. (They also uncovered a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of a person without loss of hearing; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s chance.

It’s frightening information, but it’s essential to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so strongly connected. A common hypothesis is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into understanding the sounds near you, you might not have very much energy left for remembering things such as 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 treating hearing loss. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations are easier to manage, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the critical stuff instead of attempting to figure out 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 test.

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