Hearing Associates of Libertyville, IL

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 may try, aging can’t be avoided. But did you know that loss of hearing has also been connected to between
loss problems
that can be treated, and in certain scenarios, avoidable? Here’s a peek at some examples that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which discovered that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were utilized to test them. High frequency impairment was also possible but not so severe. It was also revealed by researchers that people who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent to have hearing loss than individuals who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that there was a consistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even when taking into account other variables.

So the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes is quite well established. But why should you be at higher danger of getting diabetes just because you have loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well known. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health issues, and in particular, can cause physical damage to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the disease may affect the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But overall health management could be to blame. A 2015 study highlighted the link between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but most notably, it found that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. If you are concerned that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. Similarly, if you’re having problems hearing, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it isn’t vertigo but it can result in many other difficulties. Research carried out in 2012 discovered a strong connection between the danger of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have suspected that there was a link between the two. While examining over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the danger of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for people with mild loss of hearing: Within the last twelve months people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than people with normal hearing.

Why should having trouble hearing cause you to fall? Though our ears play an important role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, very literally). Though the reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, the authors speculated that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one problem. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to your surroundings, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that treating loss of hearing could possibly decrease your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have shown that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been fairly consistently revealed. The only variable that matters appears to be gender: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a male, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: along with the numerous tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one explanation why individuals who have 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 might also possibly cause physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would quicken loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force behind each beat. That could possibly injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you believe you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss may put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also discovered, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, though a less statistically significant one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the risk of somebody without hearing loss; one’s danger is nearly quintupled with severe hearing loss.

It’s frightening information, but it’s important to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well recognized, scientists have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so strongly linked. A common hypothesis is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In other words, because your brain is putting so much energy into understanding the sounds around you, you might not have much energy left for recalling things like where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more overwhelming when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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