Hearing Health Blog

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

Aging is one of the most common signals of hearing loss and truth be told, as hard as we may try, we can’t escape aging. But did you realize that hearing loss can lead to health issues that can be managed, and in some cases, can be prevented? You may be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which found that diabetes diagnosed people were two times as likely to suffer from some amount of hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. The analysts also found that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in other words, people with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 percent than those with healthy blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) discovered that there was a absolutely consistent link between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when when all other variables are taken into account.

So it’s pretty well established that diabetes is associated with an increased danger of hearing loss. But why would you be at increased danger of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a broad range of health concerns, and notably, can result in physical damage to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears might be likewise affected by the condition, hurting blood vessels in the inner ear. But it might also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but in particular, it revealed that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it found, suffered worse. If you are worried that you might be pre-diabetic or are suffering from undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to talk to a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a good idea to have your hearing tested if you’re having difficulty hearing too.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health issue, because it isn’t vertigo but it can lead to lots of other complications. Research performed in 2012 found a definite link between the danger of falling and hearing loss though you may not have suspected that there was a link between the two. While investigating over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for individuals with mild loss of hearing: Those who had 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those with normal hearing to have fallen within the last 12 months.

Why should having difficulty hearing cause you to fall? There are numerous reasons why hearing struggles can lead to a fall besides the role your ears have in balance. Although the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, the authors believed that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) may be one issue. But if you’re struggling to pay attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you may be paying less attention to your physical environment and that may end up in a fall. What’s promising here is that managing hearing loss may potentially minimize your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (like this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have found that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been seen fairly persistently, even when controlling for variables like noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be gender: If you’re a male, the link between hearing loss and high blood pressure is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: along with the numerous little 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 suffer from tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure might also possibly cause physical damage to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would speed up hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more force every time it beats. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may potentially be damaged by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both lifestyle changes and medical interventions. But if you believe you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing could put you at higher danger of dementia. A six year study, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s discovered that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with only minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which followed people over more than a decade found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more likely it was that he or she would get dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar link, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate loss of hearing puts you at 3X the danger of somebody with no loss of hearing; severe loss of hearing raises the danger by 4 times.

However, though researchers have been successful at documenting the connection between cognitive decline and hearing loss, they still don’t know why this occurs. If you can’t hear very well, it’s difficult to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. A different theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into understanding the sounds near you, you might not have very 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 dealing with hearing loss. Social scenarios become much more confusing when you are contending to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.

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