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

Aging is one of the most common hearing loss clues and truth be told, try as we may, aging can’t be escaped. But were you aware hearing loss has also been connected to health concerns that can be managed, and in certain situations, can be avoided? Here’s a look at a few examples that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults found that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to have some level of hearing loss when low or mid frequency tones were utilized to test them. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. The investigators also discovered that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, people 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 hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) discovered that there was a persistent association between loss of hearing and diabetes, even when when all other variables are considered.

So it’s well determined that diabetes is connected to a higher risk of hearing loss. But why would you be at greater danger of getting diabetes just because you suffer from hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health problems, and in particular, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically injured. One theory is that the the ears may be likewise impacted 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 link between hearing loss and diabetes, but in particular, it discovered that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in essence, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it found, suffered more. It’s essential to have your blood sugar tested and consult with a doctor if you suspect you may have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. By the same token, if you’re having trouble hearing, it’s a good idea to get it checked out.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can result in many other difficulties. Research conducted in 2012 disclosed a definite connection between the danger of falling and hearing loss though you might not have suspected that there was a relationship between the two. While investigating over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This link 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 had a fall within the last 12 months.

Why would you fall just because you are having problems hearing? Though our ears have a significant role to play in helping us balance, there are other reasons why hearing loss could get you down (in this case, very literally). Even though this study didn’t go into what had caused the subject’s falls, it was suspected by the authors that having trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) might be one problem. But it could also go the other way if difficulty hearing means you’re paying more attention to sounds than to what’s around you, it could be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with hearing loss may possibly lessen your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Numerous studies (such as this one from 2018) have revealed that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have observed that high blood pressure could actually speed up age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables such as if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the link has been relatively consistently revealed. Gender is the only variable that appears to matter: If you’re a guy, the connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re darn close to it: along with the many tiny blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right by it. This is one reason why people with high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they are hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your own pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure may also possibly be the cause of physical damage to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would accelerate loss of hearing. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears may potentially be injured by this. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be controlled. But if you believe you’re experiencing 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.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss may put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the danger of mental impairment increased by 24% with just minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also revealed, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the chance of dementia raised proportionally the worse hearing loss became. (They also found a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically significant one.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the danger of somebody without loss of hearing; one’s risk is raised by nearly 4 times with severe loss of hearing.

It’s frightening stuff, but it’s important to note that while the connection between loss of hearing and mental decline has been well documented, researchers have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so strongly connected. A common hypothesis is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds near you, you might not have much energy left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged could help here, but so can dealing with loss of hearing. Social scenarios become much more difficult when you are attempting to hear what people are saying. So if you are coping with hearing loss, you should put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.