Hearing loss can be challenging enough with its profound effect on communication, but did you know it can go hand in hand with other chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and dementia? Such comorbidities, or coexisting diseases, make regular hearing checkups all the more important — just as they are for your eyes and teeth — to catch potential problems early and address them for overall wellness.

Which comorbidity do you want to learn more about?

Cognitive Decline | Tinnitus | Balance | Heart Health | Smoking | Obesity | Diabetes

Cognitive Decline

Research has long pointed to links between hearing loss and decreased brain functioning over time, but some of the statistics may surprise you:

  • On average, seniors with hearing loss experience significantly reduced cognitive function 3.2 years before their normal-hearing counterparts.
  • Hearing-impaired seniors experience thinking and memory problems 30 to 40 percent faster than their normal-hearing counterparts.
  • Older adults with a hearing disability may lose over a cubic centimeter of brain tissue annually beyond normal shrinkage.
  • Those with hearing loss are two, three, or nearly five times as likely to develop dementia, depending on the severity of their hearing impairment.

The causal relationship between hearing loss and cognitive decline isn’t completely clear, but some research suggests that addressing hearing loss could cut dementia cases by a third.

Tinnitus

That ringing, humming, buzzing, or clicking in your ear that no one else seems to hear? It could be tinnitus, a common condition affecting an estimated 8 to 25 percent of adults worldwide. It can touch people of all ages, however, and is typically symptomatic of other issues such as:

  • Thyroid problems
  • Noise exposure
  • Earwax blockage
  • Medication
  • Hearing loss

In fact, many people experiencing tinnitus also have hearing loss. The good news? Advanced hearing technology can often help people effectively manage the sometimes debilitating combination of hearing loss and tinnitus.

Balance

Many people don’t realize that hearing loss can lead to vestibular, or balance, problems — which can lead to falls. In fact, research has shown that falls are more common among those with hearing loss.

In one study of more than 2,000 adults ages 40 to 69:

  • Patients with a mild hearing loss were nearly three times as likely to have reported a fall in the previous year.
  • Every 10-decibel increase in hearing loss also meant a 1.4-fold increase in the odds of a fall the prior year.

Balance and equilibrium are controlled by the body’s vestibular system, involving parts of the brain, eyes, inner ear, and sensory systems, including skin, joints, and muscles. Keeping your hearing in the best shape possible can help reduce the risk of balance issues.

Heart Health

Like hearing loss, which affects an estimated 466 million people, per the World Health Organization, cardiovascular disease — including heart disease and stroke — is a global public-health challenge. It’s the No. 1 killer worldwide, with 17.7 million deaths, per WHO estimates, and is also linked to hearing loss.

Exactly how heart disease and hearing loss are connected isn’t yet conclusive in all cases, but researchers have found that:

  • Hearing loss is more prevalent among those who have a history of circulatory disorders, such as cardiovascular disease, than among those who don’t.
  • Cardiovascular disease can cause decreased hearing sensitivity by actually restricting blood flow to the structures of the inner ear. These structures require blood flow for nourishment.
  • People with heart disease are 54 percent more likely to experience a hearing loss, according to one study — even more so if they’ve suffered a heart attack.

Some risk factors such as age, gender, and family history can’t be helped, but healthy choices such as avoiding tobacco, choosing a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and getting regular checkups can make a difference in helping prevent either condition.

Smoking

Smoking, the most preventable cause of death in the U.S. and Canada and the culprit behind most lung cancer cases, can also increase the chances of developing a hearing impairment — even without exposure to occupational noise.

With tobacco linked to various health conditions ranging from certain cancers, coronary heart disease, and stroke to emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and other serious conditions, it’s no wonder the list of complications continues to grow.

Those who smoke are at greater risk of hearing loss than nonsmokers. The best defense: Reduce or eliminate tobacco use altogether.

Obesity

It’s no secret that obesity, which affects some 650 million-plus adults and an estimated 380 million-plus young people up to age 19 — can raise the risk of stroke, heart disease, diabetes, and other serious health problems, but it’s also potentially linked to hearing impairment.

Scientists are still exploring possible cause-effect relationships between the two conditions, but theories include the stress that excess weight can inflict on the circulatory system, in turn impacting the auditory system.

One study published in 2016 showed hearing loss to be more common among two groups at opposite ends of the weight spectrum — those categorized as underweight and those considered severely obese. Prevalence among the normal-weight, overweight, and obese groups wasn’t quite as pronounced.

Diabetes

Hearing loss is twice as common among people living with diabetes, a chronic metabolic disease that isn’t yet curable but can be managed. Much like presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss, diabetes-connected hearing issues commonly take a toll on higher-frequency hearing, potentially affecting the ability to understand speech in noisy settings such as restaurants and parties.

Diabetes-associated hearing loss could affect one or both ears, may occur suddenly or gradually, and could appear with or without balance problems of the inner ear, but routine hearing checks can help catch potential issues early. As evidence of links between the two conditions continues to grow, it’s recommended that annual hearing evaluations be a standard for individuals with diabetes.