Can Other Medical Difficulties Result From Loss of Hearing?

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

Aging is one of the most typical indicators of hearing loss and let’s be honest, as hard as we might try, we can’t stop aging. But did you know that loss of hearing has also been connected to other problems that can be treated, and in certain circumstances, can be avoided? You might be surprised by these examples.

1: Diabetes

A widely-reported 2008 study that studied over 5,000 American adults revealed that individuals who were diagnosed with diabetes were twice as likely to suffer from mild or more hearing loss when screened with low or mid-frequency sounds. Impairment was also more likely with high-frequency sounds, but not as serious. The researchers also found that individuals who were pre-diabetic, in a nutshell, people with blood sugar levels that are higher, but not high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, were more likely by 30 percent to have hearing loss than people who had healthy blood sugar. A more recent 2013 meta-study (that’s right, a study of studies) determined that there was a absolutely consistent link between hearing loss and diabetes, even when when all other variables are accounted for.

So the association between loss of hearing and diabetes is pretty well demonstrated. But why would diabetes put you at greater risk of suffering from hearing loss? Science is at a bit of a loss here. Diabetes is linked to a wide range of health concerns, and particularly, the eyes, extremities and kidneys can be harmed physically. One hypothesis is that the the ears may be similarly impacted by the condition, blood vessels in the ears being harmed. But overall health management could be the culprit. A 2015 study that evaluated U.S. military veterans highlighted the connection between hearing loss and diabetes, but particularly, it found that individuals with unchecked diabetes, in essence, that those with untreated and uncontrolled diabetes, it found, suffered more. If you are worried that you may be pre-diabetic or have undiagnosed diabetes, it’s essential to consult with a doctor and have your blood sugar evaluated. It’s a good idea to have your hearing checked if you’re having trouble hearing also.

2: Falling

You could have a bad fall. It’s not really a health problem, because it’s not vertigo but it can trigger many other difficulties. A study performed in 2012 revealed a definite connection between the danger of falling and loss of hearing though you might not have thought that there was a link between the two. While examining over 2,000 adults between the ages of 40 to 69, researchers discovered that for every 10 dB rise in hearing loss (for reference, normal breathing is about 10 dB), the risk of falling increased 1.4X. Even for individuals with minimal hearing loss the link held up: Within the last year people with 25 dB of hearing loss were more likely to have fallen than individuals with normal hearing.

Why should you fall because you are having problems hearing? There are several reasons why hearing problems can lead to a fall besides the role your ears play in balance. Though the reason for the subject’s falls wasn’t examined in this study,, it was suspected by the authors that having problems 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 your surroundings, it may be easy to trip and fall. The good news here is that dealing with loss of hearing might potentially reduce your risk of having a fall.

3: High Blood Pressure

Multiple studies (including this one from 2018) have demonstrated that loss of hearing is linked to high blood pressure and some (including this 2013 research) have observed that high blood pressure might actually quicken age-related hearing loss. It’s a link that’s been seen rather persistently, even while controlling for variables including noise exposure and whether you’re a smoker. The only variable that makes a difference appears to be sex: If you’re a guy, the link between high blood pressure and loss of hearing is even stronger.

Your ears are quite closely connected to your circulatory system: Two main arteries are very near to the ears not to mention the little blood vessels inside them. This is one reason why individuals with high blood pressure often experience 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.) But high blood pressure might also possibly be the cause of physical injury to your ears which is the primary theory behind why it would quicken hearing loss. Each beat has more pressure if your heart is pumping harder. That could potentially damage the smaller blood arteries inside your ears. High blood pressure is controllable, through both medical interventions and lifestyle change. But if you suspect you’re dealing with loss of hearing even if you think you’re too young for the age-related problems, it’s a good decision to schedule an appointment with a hearing expert.

4: Dementia

Risk of dementia could be higher with loss of hearing. A six year study, begun in 2013 that followed 2,000 people in their 70’s discovered that the risk of cognitive impairment increased by 24% with just minimal loss of hearing (about 25 dB, or slightly louder than a whisper). It was also discovered, in a study from 2011 conducted by the same research group, that the chance of dementia increased proportionally the worse hearing loss got. (Alzheimer’s was also discovered to have a similar link, even though it was less substantial.) Based on these findings, moderate hearing loss puts you at 3 times the risk of somebody without hearing loss; one’s chance is raised by nearly 4 times with severe hearing loss.

But, though experts have been successful at documenting the link between cognitive decline and loss of hearing, they still don’t know why this takes place. If you can’t hear very well, it’s overwhelming to socialize with people so in theory you will avoid social interactions, and that social withdrawal 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 around you, you may not have much juice left for remembering things such as where you put your medication. Maintaining social ties and doing crosswords or brain games could help here, but so can dealing with hearing loss. Social circumstances become much more overwhelming when you are struggling to hear what people are saying. So if you are dealing with loss of hearing, you should put a plan of action in place including getting 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.