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Enhanced Hearing Center - Springfield, MO

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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss clues and truth be told, try as we might, we can’t avoid aging. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to between
loss issues
that are treatable, and in certain scenarios, avoidable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which revealed that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss when low or mid frequency sounds were utilized to test them. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. It was also revealed by analysts that people who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent than people who had normal blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) revealed that there was a consistent association between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when controlling for other variables.

So the association between loss of hearing and diabetes is very well demonstrated. But why should you be at greater risk of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well known. Diabetes is associated with a wide range of health problems, and notably, can cause physical harm to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One hypothesis is that the disease may affect the ears in a similar manner, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management may be to blame. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but most notably, it discovered that those with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it found, suffered worse. It’s important to have your blood sugar analyzed and talk with a doctor if you think you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. Also, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it examined.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health issue, because it’s not vertigo but it can trigger lots of other difficulties. Research carried out in 2012 found a strong connection between the danger of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have suspected that there was a relationship between the two. Evaluating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with minimal hearing loss the relationship held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the past 12 months.

Why should having trouble hearing cause you to fall? There are a number of reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall other than the role your ears have in balance. Even though this research didn’t go into what was the cause of the subject’s falls, the authors believed that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one issue. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re concentrating on sounds rather than paying attention to what’s around you, it could be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with loss of hearing might potentially reduce your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure may actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found pretty persistently, even when controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that is important appears to be gender: The connection betweenloss of hearing and high blood pressure, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: along with the numerous little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one reason why individuals who have 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; it’s your pulse your hearing.) The leading theory behind why high blood pressure can accelerate loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force behind each beat. That could possibly injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you believe you’re suffering from hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing might put you at higher danger of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed about 2,000 people in their 70’s over the course of six years revealed that the chance of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just slight loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a 2011 study conducted by the same research group, that the risk of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (They also uncovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these findings, moderate loss of hearing puts you at three times the danger of someone with no hearing loss; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s chance.

It’s scary information, but it’s important to recognize that while the connection between loss of hearing and mental decline has been well documented, researchers have been less effective at figuring out why the two are so strongly connected. 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 hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In other words, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you might not have very much energy left for remembering things such as where you left your keys. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations are easier to deal with, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary things instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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