Loss of Hearing Discovered to Be Linked to These Medical Conditions

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

Aging is one of the most common indicators of hearing loss and let’s be honest, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be escaped. But did you know that loss of hearing can lead to between
loss issues
that are treatable, and in some cases, avoidable? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were examined in a 2008 study which found that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when tested with mid or low-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as severe. It was also revealed by investigators that people who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were 30 percent more likely to have hearing loss than people with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) discovered that the relationship between hearing loss and diabetes was persistent, even while taking into consideration other variables.

So the association between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well established. But why should diabetes put you at greater chance of getting hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is related to a wide variety of health concerns, and particularly, can cause physical injury to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One hypothesis is that the the ears could be similarly affected by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But it may also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but most notably, it found that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in other words, people suffered even worse if they had uncontrolled and untreated diabetes. It’s necessary to get your blood sugar tested and speak to a doctor if you suspect you might have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having trouble hearing too.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health condition, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can start a cascade of health concerns. And though you might not think that your hearing could impact your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study uncovered a significant link between hearing loss and risk of a fall. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with minimal hearing loss the relationship held up: Within the last twelve months people who had 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should having trouble hearing make you fall? While our ears play a significant role in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, quite literally). Although this research didn’t delve into what had caused the participant’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) could be one problem. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you might not be paying attention to your physical environment and that may end up in a fall. The good news here is that treating hearing loss could potentially reduce your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (such as this one from 2018) have demonstrated that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen fairly consistently, even while controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that is important appears to be gender: If you’re a male, the connection between loss of hearing and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: along with the numerous tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one explanation why individuals with high blood pressure often suffer from 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 may also potentially be the cause of physical damage to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would quicken loss of hearing. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be injured by this. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re suffering with hearing loss even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good idea to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia may be higher with hearing loss. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that was documented after nearly 2,000 individuals in their 70’s during the period of six years discovered that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same researchers which tracked people over more than 10 years discovered that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more likely it was that he or she would get dementia. (They also found a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at three times the danger of somebody who doesn’t have loss of hearing; one’s danger is raised by nearly 4 times with extreme hearing loss.

It’s scary information, but it’s important to recognize that while the connection between hearing loss and cognitive decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so strongly linked. If you can’t hear well, it’s difficult to interact with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds near you, you may not have very much energy left for recalling things such as where you put your medication. Staying in close communication with friends and family and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to handle, and you’ll be able to focus on the necessary stuff instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing exam.