Aging is one of the most common signals of hearing loss and let’s be honest, as hard as we may try, aging can’t be avoided. But did you recognize that loss of hearing can lead to between
loss concerns that can be managed, and in many cases, can be avoided? Here’s a peek at various examples that could surprise you.
A widely-reported 2008 study that evaluated over 5,000 American adults found that individuals who had been diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to have mild or more hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also possible but not so severe. It was also found by investigators that individuals who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent to have loss of hearing than individuals with healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that the relationship between diabetes and loss of hearing was consistent, even when controlling for other variables.
So it’s solidly determined that diabetes is connected to a higher risk of loss of hearing. But why should diabetes put you at greater danger of suffering from hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a wide variety of health concerns, and in particular, can result in physical injury to the eyes, kidneys, and extremities. One theory is that the the ears might be similarly affected by the disease, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But general health management may be to blame. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but particularly, it revealed that people with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it found, suffered worse. If you are concerned that you might be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar tested. Similarly, if you’re having problems hearing, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.
All right, this is not exactly a health problem, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but going through a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health problems. And though you might not think that your hearing would affect your likelihood of slipping or tripping, research from 2012 found a considerable connection between hearing loss and fall risk. Investigating a trial of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, scientists found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This connection held up even for individuals with mild hearing loss: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have fallen within the past twelve months.
Why would having trouble hearing cause you to fall? While 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). While this study didn’t delve into what had caused the subject’s falls, the authors speculated that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) could be one issue. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to your surroundings, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that treating loss of hearing might potentially lessen your chance of suffering a fall.
3: High Blood Pressure
A number of studies (including this one from 2018) have demonstrated that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have shown that high blood pressure could actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including noise exposure or if you smoke, the link has been rather consistently found. The only variable that matters appears to be sex: 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: Two main arteries are very close to the ears and additionally the little blood vessels inside them. This is one reason 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.) But high blood pressure could also possibly be the cause of physical damage to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would quicken hearing loss. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. That could potentially injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you believe you’re experiencing hearing loss even if you think you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to speak with a hearing specialist.
Chances of dementia might be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, begun in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s found that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same research group which analyzed subjects over more than a decade found that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more probably it was that they would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar connection, even though it was less significant.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the risk of someone who doesn’t have loss of hearing; severe hearing loss raises the risk by 4 times.
But, even though researchers have been able to document the connection between loss of hearing and cognitive decline, they still aren’t positive as to why this occurs. A common hypothesis is that having problems hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be debilitating. Another hypothesis is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, trying to hear sounds around you fatigues your brain so you may not have much juice left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social situations become much more confusing when you are struggling 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.