McDonald Hearing Services - Grand Rapids, MI

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

Aging is one of the most typical signals of hearing loss and let’s be truthful, try as we might, we can’t avoid aging. But did you realize that loss of hearing has also been linked to health problems that are treatable, and in certain circumstances, can be avoided? Here’s a look at various cases that could surprise you.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults found that people who had been diagnosed with diabetes were two times as likely to suffer from mild or more hearing loss when tested with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more probable with high-frequency sounds, but not as extreme. The investigators also observed that subjects who were pre-diabetic, put simply, individuals with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be defined as diabetes, were more likely by 30 % to have hearing loss than people who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (you got it, a study of studies) revealed that the link between diabetes and loss of hearing was persistent, even when taking into account other variables.

So the link between hearing loss and diabetes is quite well established. But why would you be at greater risk of getting diabetes just because you suffer from loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well comprehended. Diabetes is connected to a wide variety of health concerns, and in particular, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically damaged. One theory is that the disease might impact the ears in a similar way, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But overall health management might be at fault. A 2015 study highlighted the connection between diabetes and hearing loss in U.S veterans, but most notably, it revealed that people with unchecked diabetes, in other words, that those with uncontrolled and untreated diabetes, it discovered, suffered more. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s necessary to consult with a doctor and get your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not exactly a health issue, because it’s not vertigo but it can lead to many other complications. A study carried out in 2012 found a strong connection between the risk of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have suspected that there was a link between the two. While analyzing over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, investigators found that for every 10 dB increase in hearing loss (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. This link held up even for individuals with mild hearing loss: Within the past year individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why would you fall because you are having problems hearing? There are a number of reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. While the exact reason for the individual’s falls wasn’t looked at in this study,, it was speculated by the authors that having difficulty hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound like a car honking) could 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 might be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that treating hearing loss may potentially reduce your chance of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Several studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that hearing loss is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have shown that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a connection that’s been seen fairly persistently, even when controlling for variables such as whether or not you smoke or noise exposure. Gender is the only variable that seems to make a difference: The connection between high blood pressure and hearing loss, if your a man, is even stronger.

Your ears are not part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: In addition to the many little blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries go right near it. This is one reason why people who have 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 pulse your hearing.) The primary theory for why high blood pressure might quicken loss of hearing is that high blood pressure can also do permanent damage to your ears. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. That could possibly damage the smaller blood arteries in your ears. Through medical intervention and changes in lifestyle, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you believe you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you think you’re not old enough for the age-related stuff, it’s a good decision to speak with a hearing specialist.

4: Dementia

Hearing loss could put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 people in their 70’s revealed that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minimal hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also found, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss was. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar connection, even though it was less substantial.) moderate loss of hearing, based on these findings, puts you at 3X the risk of someone who doesn’t have loss of hearing; severe loss of hearing raises the danger by 4 times.

It’s alarming information, but it’s significant to recognize that while the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well recognized, researchers have been less successful at sussing out why the two are so strongly linked. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different theory is that hearing loss overloads your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds near you, you may not have much juice left for remembering things such as where you left your keys. Preserving social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can treating loss of hearing. If you’re able to hear clearly, social situations become much easier to handle, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the critical things instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including having a hearing exam.