Hear in Edmonton - Edmonton, Alberta

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 avoided. But did you know that loss of hearing can lead to health problems that are treatable, and in some cases, can be avoided? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to suffer from some amount of hearing loss when low or mid frequency sounds were applied to screen them. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. It was also determined by analysts that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be defined as diabetes, in other words, pre-diabetic, were 30 % more likely to have hearing loss than those with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) discovered that the relationship between diabetes and hearing loss was consistent, even while when all other variables are taken into account.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is pretty well founded. But why would you be at increased danger of getting diabetes simply because you have hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health problems, and notably, can result in physical injury to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One hypothesis is that the disease may impact the ears in a similar way, harming blood vessels in the inner ear. But it may also be related to general health management. A 2015 study that evaluated U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but most notably, it revealed that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. It’s important to have your blood sugar checked and talk with a doctor if you suspect you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to have your hearing examined if you’re having a hard time hearing also.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can lead to lots of other difficulties. Research conducted in 2012 found a definite link between the chance of falling and loss of hearing though you may not have suspected that there was a relationship between the two. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers found 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 those with minimal hearing loss the relationship 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 previous twelve months.

Why would having trouble hearing cause you to fall? There are several reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Although this research didn’t go into what had caused the participant’s falls, the authors believed that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) might be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your split attention means you might be paying less attention to your physical environment and that may end up in a fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing could possibly decrease your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (like this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is associated with high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have established that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been seen pretty consistently, even when controlling for variables including 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 guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are very closely connected to your circulatory system: along with the many tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one explanation 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; you’re hearing your pulse.) But high blood pressure might also potentially cause physical damage 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 inside your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re dealing with hearing loss even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia may be higher with hearing loss. 2013 research from Johns Hopkins University that followed almost 2,000 individuals in their 70’s during the period of six years discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minimal hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which tracked subjects over more than a decade found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more probably it was that they would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, though a less statistically substantial one.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of a person who doesn’t have loss of hearing; one’s chance is raised by nearly 4 times with extreme hearing loss.

But, though researchers have been able to document the connection between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still don’t know why this takes place. 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 debilitating. Another theory is that hearing loss short circuits your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have much energy left for remembering things such as 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 situations become much more confusing when you are struggling 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 getting a hearing test.

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