Illini Hearing - Champaign and Mahomet, IL

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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss clues and let’s face it, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be escaped. But did you know that hearing loss can lead to health problems that can be managed, and in some cases, avoidable? Here’s a peek at various cases that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that examined over 5,000 American adults revealed that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some amount of hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. It was also found by analysts that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 % to suffer from hearing loss than people with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) determined that the relationship between hearing loss and diabetes was consistent, even when controlling for other variables.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is linked to a higher danger of hearing loss. But why should diabetes put you at higher risk of suffering from loss of hearing? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a wide variety of health issues, and in particular, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be harmed physically. One hypothesis is that the condition might affect the ears in a similar way, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management might be to blame. A 2015 study underscored the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it revealed that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. It’s essential to have your blood sugar checked and speak with a doctor if you suspect you may have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a good idea to get your hearing examined if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

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 many other difficulties. A study performed in 2012 revealed a definite connection between the chance of falling and hearing loss though you may not have suspected that there was a connection between the two. While investigating over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with slight hearing loss the link held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have had a fall within the last year.

Why should having problems hearing make you fall? There are numerous reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Though this research didn’t go into what was the cause of the subject’s falls, it was theorized by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) might be one problem. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you may be paying less attention to your physical environment and that may lead to a fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with loss of hearing might possibly reduce your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have found that high blood pressure might actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen rather persistently, even when controlling for variables like whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: The link between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: along with the countless tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one explanation why people 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; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) The primary theory behind why high blood pressure could accelerate 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 potentially damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you believe you’re experiencing hearing loss even if you believe you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that followed almost 2,000 people in their 70’s during the period of six years found that the danger of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with only minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the danger of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar connection, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these conclusions, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3X the risk of somebody without hearing loss; severe hearing loss raises the danger by 4 times.

It’s alarming information, but it’s essential to recognize that while the link between loss of hearing and mental decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so solidly linked. A common hypothesis is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much energy into comprehending the sounds near you, you may not have very much energy left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. 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 should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.

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