Can Hearing Loss Lead to Other Medical Difficulties?
Aging is one of the most common hearing loss clues and truth be told, as hard as we might try, we can’t avoid aging. But did you know that loss of hearing can lead to health issues that are treatable, and in certain scenarios, preventable? Here’s a peek at a few examples that could surprise you.
Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which revealed that individuals who had been diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when tested with mid or low-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but not as severe. The researchers also observed that individuals who were pre-diabetic, put simply, individuals with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were 30 percent more likely to suffer from loss of hearing than those with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) revealed that the relationship between diabetes and loss of hearing was consistent, even when when all other variables are accounted for.
So it’s pretty well determined that diabetes is connected to an increased risk of hearing loss. But why should diabetes put you at increased chance of suffering from hearing loss? Science is somewhat at a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a number of health concerns, and in particular, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be injured physically. One theory is that the the ears could be similarly affected by the condition, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management might be to blame. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but in particular, it revealed that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it found, suffered more. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s important to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. By the same token, if you’re having difficulty hearing, it’s a good idea to get it tested.
All right, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but having a bad fall can initiate a cascade of health problems. And while you may not think that your hearing could affect your likelihood of tripping or slipping, a 2012 study found a significant connection between hearing loss and fall risk. Investigating a sample of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, scientists 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. This connection held up even for those with mild hearing loss: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have fallen within the last twelve months.
Why should having trouble hearing cause you to 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). Though the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, it was suspected by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing a car honking or other significant sounds) may be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around you, your divided attention means you might be paying less attention to your physical environment and that may end up in a fall. What’s promising here is that dealing with hearing loss might possibly decrease your risk of having a fall.
3: High Blood Pressure
Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have shown that high blood pressure may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables like noise exposure or if you smoke, the connection has been relatively consistently discovered. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: The connection between high blood pressure and loss of hearing, if your a guy, is even stronger.
Your ears are quite closely connected 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 reason why individuals with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, the pulsing they’re hearing is ultimately their own blood pumping. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) The main theory for 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 every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could potentially be injured by this. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you think you’re suffering from hearing loss even if you believe you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to consult a hearing care professional.
Hearing loss might put you at higher risk of dementia. A 2013 study from Johns Hopkins University that followed about 2,000 individuals in their 70’s over the course of six years found that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only mild hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a 2011 study conducted by the same group of researchers, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (They also found a similar connection to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of someone without hearing loss; severe loss of hearing raises the chance by 4 times.
It’s scary information, but it’s significant to recognize that while the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well documented, scientists have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so strongly connected. A common theory is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, 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 of its recourses into comprehending the sounds near you, you might not have much juice left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more overwhelming when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.