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Center For Better Hearing - Glens Falls, NY

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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss indicators and let’s be honest, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be stopped. But were you aware loss of hearing can lead to between
loss issues
that are treatable, and in certain scenarios, can be avoided? Here’s a look at several cases that will surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults revealed that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to suffer from some level of hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also revealed by analysts that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 % more likely than those who had healthy blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) determined that there was a consistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even while taking into consideration other variables.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is linked to an increased danger of loss of hearing. But why should diabetes put you at greater danger of getting hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is connected to a broad range of health concerns, and in particular, can cause physical injury to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears may be similarly affected by the disease, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management could be to blame. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the link between loss of hearing and diabetes, but most notably, it found that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. Similarly, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t discussing vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health issues. Research carried out in 2012 found a strong connection between the risk of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have suspected that there was a connection between the two. Evaluating a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This relationship held up even for those with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the last 12 months.

Why would you fall because you are having trouble hearing? 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). Even though the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, it was theorized by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) might be one problem. But it could also go the other way if problems hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to your surroundings, it could be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with hearing loss could potentially decrease your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have found that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been pretty persistently revealed. Gender is the only variable that appears to matter: If you’re a male, the link between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: along with the countless little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one reason why people with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is actually their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) But high blood pressure may also potentially be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would speed up loss of hearing. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you suspect you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, begun in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s found that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which analyzed subjects over more than 10 years discovered that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more likely it was that they would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar link, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these conclusions, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3 times the risk of a person with no hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s risk.

It’s alarming information, but it’s significant to note that while the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well recognized, scientists have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so solidly linked. If you can’t hear very well, it’s hard to interact with people so the theory is you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much energy into understanding the sounds near you, you may not have much energy left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. Social circumstances become much more difficult 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 getting a hearing exam.

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