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, try as we may, we can’t stop aging. But were you aware loss of hearing can lead to between
loss concerns
that are treatable, and in some cases, preventable? Here’s a look at some examples that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that evaluated over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed people were twice as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. The experts also discovered that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, people with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 percent to have loss of hearing than people with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) found that the link between hearing loss and diabetes was persistent, even while taking into consideration other variables.

So the connection between hearing loss and diabetes is quite well founded. But why would you be at increased danger of getting diabetes simply because you suffer from loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is related to a broad range of health problems, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be physically injured. One theory is that the the ears could be likewise affected by the disease, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management may be at fault. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, but in particular, it revealed that those with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it found, suffered worse. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to speak to a doctor and get your blood sugar checked. By the same token, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a smart idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can result in many other difficulties. And while you might not think that your hearing could affect your possibility of slipping or tripping, a 2012 study uncovered a significant connection between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While studying over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, investigators discovered 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. Even for individuals with minimal loss of hearing the relationship held up: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have fallen within the last year.

Why would you fall just because you are having problems hearing? There are several reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Although this research didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, the authors believed that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one problem. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to your surroundings, it could be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing could possibly decrease your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure may actually quicken age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as noise exposure or if you smoke, the link has been rather consistently revealed. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: If you’re a guy, the link between loss of hearing and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very close to the ears not to mention the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why individuals with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s actually their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) But high blood pressure could also potentially cause physical injury to your ears which is the main theory behind why it would accelerate hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure every time it beats. 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 suffering with loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing could put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s revealed that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only slight hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which tracked people over more than 10 years discovered that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that he or she would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the risk of someone with no hearing loss; severe loss of hearing raises the risk by 4 times.

It’s frightening stuff, but it’s important to note that while the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so solidly connected. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In other words, trying to perceive sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have very much energy left for recalling 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. Social situations become much more overwhelming when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.