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

Aging is one of the most typical hearing loss indicators and let’s be honest, try as we may, we can’t stop aging. But were you aware hearing loss has also been connected to health problems that can be managed, and in certain situations, can be prevented? Here’s a peek at a few examples that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which found that people who were diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when mid or low frequency tones were applied to test them. High frequency impairment was also possible but less severe. The analysts also determined that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, individuals with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % than individuals with healthy blood sugar levels, to have loss of hearing. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) revealed that the connection between diabetes and hearing loss was persistent, even when taking into account other variables.

So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is linked to an increased chance of hearing loss. But why would diabetes put you at higher chance of suffering from loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well understood. Diabetes is related to a broad range of health issues, and particularly, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be injured physically. One theory is that the condition might affect the ears in a similar manner, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But general health management might be the culprit. A 2015 study underscored the link between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but most notably, it discovered that those with unchecked diabetes, in essence, people suffered even worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s essential to have your blood sugar tested and talk with a doctor if you suspect you could have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. It’s a good idea to have your hearing tested if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

All right, this is not really a health problem, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can start a cascade of health problems. A study performed in 2012 revealed a definite connection between the chance of falling and hearing loss though you might not have suspected that there was a connection between the two. Looking at a trial of over 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69, scientists discovered that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for those with minimal loss of hearing the link held up: Within the previous twelve months people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have had a fall than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should having problems hearing make you fall? Even though our ears have an important role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why loss of hearing could get you down (in this case, very literally). Although this study didn’t delve into what was the cause of the subject’s falls, the authors believed that having difficulty hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) may be one issue. But it could also go the other way if problems 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 treating loss of hearing may possibly minimize your chance of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (such as this one from 2018) have shown that loss of hearing is associated with high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 research) have found that high blood pressure could actually quicken age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been fairly persistently found. Gender is the only variable that appears to make a difference: If you’re a man, the connection between high blood pressure and loss of hearing is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: along with the numerous little blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one explanation why people with high blood pressure often suffer from 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 own pulse your hearing.) The main theory behind why high blood pressure might speed up hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, started in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s found that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with just mild loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also discovered, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same group of researchers, that the risk of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (They also found a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less substantial.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at three times the risk of someone who doesn’t have hearing loss; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s danger.

However, though researchers have been able to document the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still aren’t positive as to why this occurs. If you can’t hear very well, it’s difficult to interact with people so the theory is you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so you may not have much juice left for recalling 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 attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.