Understanding the Link Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss
In the United States, more than 37 million people have diabetes. It is a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas can’t make enough insulin or the body doesn’t know how to use the insulin it produces. It can affect many aspects of a person’s life, and now, scientists are zeroing in on how diabetes and hearing loss are related.
People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop hearing loss than the general population. But what is the connection between these two conditions?
Exploring the Diabetes-Hearing Loss Connection
Several studies have focused on the connection between diabetes and hearing loss. Two-thirds of adults with type 2 diabetes have hearing loss, with 36.2% of them experiencing moderate to severe hearing loss.
One study reveals that the higher prevalence of hearing loss in diabetic patients as opposed to nondiabetic patients applies regardless of age. Diabetes is also more likely to aggravate existing hearing loss in older patients.
The type of hearing loss most common in those with type 2 diabetes is bilateral high frequency. Hearing loss can affect both high and low frequencies.
Impact on Auditory Health
High blood sugar levels, which is what diabetes causes, create chemical changes in the body that affect the nervous system. This can impact the nervous system’s ability to send normal sound signals to the brain. Diabetes can also cause changes to the basement membrane, the stria vascularis, and the cochlear hair cells.
The cochlea is particularly vulnerable because of the many small blood vessels it contains. Diabetes causes changes in small blood vessels, which is what leads to vision problems and even the development of diabetic foot. The blood vessels in the cochlea can easily get damaged, leading to hearing loss.
Hyperglycemia also leads to oxidative damage as well as the creation of free radicals, which can cause neuronal damage. Oxidative stress leads to the degeneration of the small blood vessels that feed the atrial-cochlear nerve, which is responsible for balance and hearing.
High blood pressure, which is common in people with diabetes, can also cause damage to your hearing. High blood pressure makes blood travel with more force through blood vessels, potentially leading to vessel lining damage.
Early Signs of Hearing Issues Related to Diabetes
Hearing loss happens gradually for people who have diabetes, making it hard to notice. In many instances, people who are close to you may notice your hearing loss before you do.
Common early signs of hearing issues include:
- Having trouble following conversations with more than one person
- Often asking others to repeat themselves
- Turning up the volume of the television too loudly for others
- Thinking that others are mumbling
- Having trouble hearing the voices of young children
- Struggling to hear in loud and busy places
Many people who begin experiencing hearing loss notice they have trouble with consonants. Consonants are high-frequency sounds, which hearing loss from diabetes can make harder to detect.
You may also notice that you don’t hear as many bird sounds as you used to or that your car’s turn signal is not as audible as it once was. These are all higher-pitched sounds as well.
You may also notice you have listener fatigue. It occurs because you spend the day struggling to hear. Having problems with your inner ear can also impact your balance, putting you at a higher risk of falling.
Proactive Measures for Hearing Preservation
If you have diabetes and you’re worried about experiencing hearing loss, taking proactive measures is vital. Perhaps the most important of these is to keep your blood sugar levels under control. You can prevent a lot of damage to your auditory system by avoiding hyperglycemia as much as possible.
Make sure to have regular hearing assessments. Make these checkups part of your regular diabetes care schedule. Get your hearing tested by an audiologist as soon as you receive a diabetes diagnosis to have a baseline.
Speak with your healthcare provider about any medications you take for diabetes and any other conditions. Some medications can increase the chances of developing hearing loss.
Lifestyle and Auditory Health
If you smoke, you should quit. Smoking increases blood pressure, and the nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke can damage blood vessels.
You should also maintain healthy cholesterol levels. People who eat diets high in cholesterol have a 33% higher risk of developing hearing loss.
Keep external noises low. If you’re exposed to loud noises throughout the day, consider wearing noise-canceling headphones.
Limit your alcohol intake. Alcohol raises your blood pressure, which damages your auditory system. This doesn’t mean you can’t have a drink every once in a while; just don’t overindulge.
Another important way to not only keep blood pressure down but also reduce your risk of hearing loss is to try to decrease your stress. Exercising is a good way of dealing with stress, as are meditating or doing breathing exercises.
Managing Diabetes and Hearing Loss
Diabetes is a serious and chronic disease that affects your overall well-being. Because of the way the hyperglycemia caused by diabetes damages blood vessels and nerves, it can permanently affect the hair cells your auditory system depends on to be able to hear.
Dealing with diabetes and managing hearing loss requires you to pay attention to your blood sugar levels. It’s also necessary to work closely with an audiologist as well as the rest of your care team.
If you’re struggling with diabetes and hearing loss, you can turn to the Association of Diabetes Care & Education Specialists (ADCES), which has a locator tool that can help you find a diabetes education program near you. You can also turn to the Hearing Loss of America Association for local support groups.
For those who have diabetes, focusing on auditory health is vital because the risk of hearing loss can be high. Visit your audiologist regularly to get assessments.
Don’t wait. Schedule a hearing exam at one of our Happy Ears Hearing Center locations.