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

Aging is one of the most common signals of hearing loss and let’s face it, try as we might, we can’t escape aging. But did you realize that loss of hearing can lead to health problems that are treatable, and in many cases, avoidable? Here’s a look at some cases that may surprise you.

1: Diabetes

Over 5,000 American adults were looked at in a 2008 study which discovered that diabetes diagnosed individuals were two times as likely to have mild or greater hearing loss when screened with mid or low-frequency sounds. High frequency impairment was also likely but less severe. It was also found by researchers that individuals who had high blood sugar levels but not high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes, put simply, pre-diabetic, were more likely by 30 % to suffer from loss of hearing than individuals who had normal blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (yup, a study of studies) found that the link between hearing loss and diabetes was persistent, even while taking into consideration other variables.

So the association between hearing loss and diabetes is very well founded. But why would you be at higher danger of getting diabetes simply because you have loss of hearing? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a broad range of health problems, and in particular, can cause physical damage to the extremities, eyes and kidneys. One theory is that the the ears might be similarly impacted by the disease, blood vessels in the ears being damaged. But it might also be associated with general health management. A 2015 study underscored the connection between hearing loss and diabetes in U.S veterans, but in particular, it discovered that people with uncontrolled diabetes, in other words, people suffered worse if they had untreated and uncontrolled. It’s essential to get your blood sugar analyzed and consult with a doctor if you think you might have undiagnosed diabetes or may be pre-diabetic. It’s a smart idea to get your hearing checked if you’re having a hard time hearing too.

2: Falling

OK, this is not exactly a health issue, since we aren’t talking about vertigo, but experiencing a bad fall can trigger a cascade of health problems. Research conducted in 2012 discovered a strong link between the risk of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have thought that there was a connection between the two. Looking at a trial of over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 and 69, scientists discovered 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 mild loss of hearing the link held up: Those with 25 dB hearing loss were 3 times as likely as those who had normal hearing to have had a fall within the previous year.

Why should you fall because you are having problems hearing? There are quite a few reasons why hearing issues can lead to a fall other than the role your ears play in balance. Though this research didn’t delve into what was the cause of the participant’s falls, the authors speculated that having trouble hearing what’s around you (and missing an important sound such as a car honking) 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 might be easy to trip and fall. What’s promising here is that managing hearing loss might potentially minimize your risk of suffering a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

A variety of studies (such as this one from 2018) have found that loss of hearing is connected to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 study) have established that high blood pressure might actually accelerate age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been found fairly persistently, even while controlling for variables including noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that is important appears to be sex: The connection betweenhearing loss and high blood pressure, if your a guy, is even stronger.

Your ears aren’t part of your circulatory system, but they’re pretty close to it: along with the countless tiny blood vessels inside your ear, two of the body’s main arteries run right near it. This is one explanation why people who have high blood pressure often suffer from tinnitus, it’s actually their own blood pumping that they are hearing. (That’s why this kind of tinnitus is called pulsatile tinnitus; you’re hearing your own pulse.) The leading theory behind why high blood pressure can speed up hearing loss is that high blood pressure can also cause permanent injury to your ears. Each beat has more force if your heart is pumping harder. That could potentially injure the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. lifestyle changes and medical intervention, high blood pressure can be managed. But if you think you’re suffering from loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good idea 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, started in 2013 that analyzed 2,000 individuals in their 70’s discovered that the risk of mental impairment increased by 24% with just minor loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). 2011 research by the same research group which tracked people over more than a decade found that the worse a subject’s hearing was, the more probably it was that they would develop dementia. (They also discovered a similar link to Alzheimer’s Disease, albeit a less statistically substantial one.) Based on these conclusions, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3X the danger of someone without hearing loss; severe loss of hearing raises the risk by 4 times.

But, even though researchers have been able to document the link between hearing loss and cognitive decline, they still don’t know why this takes place. A common hypothesis is that having trouble hearing can cause people to avoid social interactions, and that social isolation and lack of mental stimulation can be incapacitating. A different hypothesis is that loss of hearing short circuits your brain. In essence, because your brain is putting so much of its recourses into comprehending the sounds near you, you may not have very much juice left for remembering things like where you put your medication. Preserving social ties and keeping the brain active and challenged 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 necessary things instead of trying to understand what someone just said. So if you are coping with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including having a hearing test.