Several Medical Conditions Have Been Associated With Loss of Hearing

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

Aging is one of the most common indicators of hearing loss and let’s face it, try as we might, aging can’t be stopped. But were you aware hearing loss can lead to health issues that are treatable, and in certain scenarios, can be avoided? You could be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-cited 2008 study that looked at over 5,000 American adults found that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when analyzed with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. It was also found by investigators that individuals who struggled with high blood sugar levels but not so high as to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 percent than those with normal blood sugar levels, to have hearing loss. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) revealed that there was a persistent association between hearing loss and diabetes, even when 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 would diabetes put you at increased danger of suffering from loss of hearing? The answer isn’t really well known. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health concerns, and notably, the kidneys, extremities, and eyes can be physically damaged. One hypothesis is that the disease might affect the ears in a similar way, damaging blood vessels in the inner ear. But overall health management could be the culprit. A 2015 study that investigated U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between loss of hearing and diabetes, but in particular, it discovered that those with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it discovered, suffered worse. It’s necessary to get your blood sugar tested and speak to a doctor if you suspect you could have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. It’s a good idea to get your hearing examined if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

All right, this is not exactly a health problem, since we aren’t dealing with vertigo, but having a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health problems. A study carried out in 2012 found a definite link between the risk of falling and hearing loss though you might not have suspected that there was a connection between the two. While investigating over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, scientists discovered that for every 10 dB increase in loss of hearing (as an example, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the chance of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with slight hearing loss the relationship held up: Within the past year individuals with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than people with normal hearing.

Why would having problems hearing cause you to fall? There are several reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall other than 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 trouble hearing what’s going on around you you (and missing a car honking or other important sounds) might be one issue. But if you’re having difficulties paying attention to sounds around 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 loss of hearing may potentially decrease your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

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

Your ears are very closely related to your circulatory system: In addition to the countless little blood vessels in your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right by it. This is one reason why individuals who have high blood pressure often experience tinnitus, it’s ultimately their own blood pumping that they’re hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; it’s your pulse your hearing.) But high blood pressure could also potentially cause physical damage to your ears which is the leading theory behind why it would quicken hearing loss. If your heart is pumping harder, there’s more pressure behind each beat. The smaller blood vessels in your ears might possibly be injured by this. High blood pressure is manageable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you believe you’re experiencing loss of hearing even if you believe you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Loss of hearing may put you at higher risk of dementia. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s discovered that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with just minor hearing loss (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). A 2011 study by the same researchers which followed people over more than 10 years found that when the subject’s hearing got worse, the more likely it was that he or she would develop dementia. (Alzheimer’s was also found to have a similar connection, even though it was less significant.) moderate hearing loss, based on these findings, puts you at 3 times the danger of someone who doesn’t have loss of hearing; severe loss of hearing nearly quintuples one’s risk.

It’s scary stuff, but it’s important to recognize that while the link between loss of hearing and cognitive decline has been well documented, experts have been less effective at sussing out why the two are so strongly connected. A common theory is that having difficulty hearing can cause people to avoid social situations, and that social withdrawal and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. Another hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. Essentially, trying to hear sounds around you exhausts your brain so 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 loss of hearing. If you’re capable of hearing clearly, social situations become much easier to deal with, and you’ll be capable of focusing on the important things instead of trying to figure out what someone just said. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you need to put a plan of action in place including getting a hearing test.