Loss of Hearing Discovered to Be Connected to These Medical Conditions

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 face it, try as we may, aging can’t be escaped. But did you realize that hearing loss has also been linked to other problems that are treatable, and in some cases, can be prevented? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were evaluated in a 2008 study which found that diabetes-diagnosed individuals were twice as likely to suffer from mild or more hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. The experts also observed that subjects who were pre-diabetic, in other words, those with blood sugar levels that are elevated, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % to have hearing loss than individuals who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) determined that the link between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even while when all other variables are accounted for.

So it’s well established that diabetes is connected to a higher risk of loss of hearing. But why should diabetes put you at higher danger of getting loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is associated with a number of health issues, and particularly, can result in physical injury to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears could be similarly impacted by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But general health management could be at fault. A 2015 study that looked at U.S. military veterans underscored the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, but particularly, it discovered that people with unchecked diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. It’s necessary to have your blood sugar analyzed and speak with a doctor if you think you may have undiagnosed diabetes or might be pre-diabetic. It’s a good idea to have your hearing examined if you’re having difficulty hearing also.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health condition, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but having a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health issues. Research performed in 2012 uncovered a definite connection between the danger of falling and hearing loss though you may not have suspected that there was a link between the two. While examining over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers found that for every 10 dB rise in loss of hearing (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for people with minimal hearing loss the connection held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss had 3 times the likelihood than those with normal hearing to have fallen within the last 12 months.

Why should you fall just because you are having difficulty hearing? There are numerous reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Though the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, it was theorized by the authors that having problems hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) could be one problem. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds near you, your split attention means you may not be paying attention to your physical environment and that may lead to a fall. The good news here is that dealing with hearing loss might potentially lessen your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A number of studies (including this one from 2018) have revealed that hearing loss is connected to high blood pressure and some (like this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure may actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. Even after controlling for variables including if you’re a smoker or noise exposure, the connection has been pretty persistently discovered. Gender is the only variable that seems to matter: The link between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely related to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears as well as the little blood vessels inside them. This is one explanation why people with high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they are hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your pulse.) The principal theory behind why high blood pressure can accelerate hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. The smaller blood vessels in your ears could possibly be damaged by this. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you think you’re suffering with loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related stuff, it’s a good move to consult a hearing care professional.

4: Dementia

Chances of dementia might be higher with hearing loss. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s found that the chance of mental impairment increased by 24% with just minor hearing loss (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 was. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, even though it was less significant.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the danger of somebody without loss of hearing; severe hearing loss nearly quintuples one’s risk.

It’s alarming stuff, but it’s important to recognize that while the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well documented, scientists have been less successful at figuring out why the two are so strongly connected. If you can’t hear well, it’s hard to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing overloads your brain. Essentially, because your brain is putting so much energy into comprehending the sounds around you, you might not have much energy left for recalling things like where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating hearing loss. Social situations become much more difficult 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 test.

The site information is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice. To receive personalized advice or treatment, schedule an appointment.