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Diabetes and Hearing Loss: The Important Connection

If you visit HealthyHearing.com regularly, you know that certain conditions predispose you to hearing loss. First and foremost among them is the aging process, but certain illnesses and lifestyle choices can also incite the onset of a hearing loss. Among them are exposure to loud noises, cardiovascular disease, as well as smoking and obesity can contribute to hearing loss. But they are not the only culprits.

Diabetes too has been linked to hearing loss, with a considerable number of diabetics suffering from diminished hearing (see below). Yet, while physicians have been encouraging diabetics to regularly test their vision, screening for hearing loss has often been neglected.

Now, with the alarming information about the link between diabetes and hearing, this oversight will hopefully be rectified.

World Diabetes Day – November 14th

November 14th marked the World Diabetes Day, a global awareness campaign launched in 1991 by the International Diabetes Federation. This year’s theme is “Understand Diabetes and Take Control.”

Hearing health professionals across the United States, as well as Healthy Hearing, hope to raise awareness of the diabetes – hearing loss connection. Y

ou should certainly listen – if you can – to this important message.

An insidious disease

Diabetes is a chronic and potentially fatal disease, marked by high levels of sugar in the blood. The diabetic’s body doesn’t produce or properly use insulin - a hormone needed to convert sugar, starches and other food into energy needed for daily life.

This is a simplified description of this complex debilitating illness, which, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), impacts about 23.6 million adult Americans, an estimated 5.7 million of whom are unaware that they have this disease. Globally, approximately 285 million people live with this illness.

How can so many people be unaware that they have diabetes? It is possible that symptoms such as blurry vision, excessive thirst, fatigue, frequent urination, and weight loss may be attributed to other conditions – or ignored altogether.

While there is treatment for diabetes - including medication, healthy nutrition and exercise program, as well as losing excess weight - it was the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2006, according to ADA. The organization says this ranking is based on the 72,507 death certificates issued in 2006, in which diabetes was listed as the underlying cause of death. The previous year – the latest year for which such data is available - diabetes contributed to a total of 233,619 deaths.

These are truly alarming numbers, and if you or anyone you know suffers from this disease, you should take all the medically sound precautions. And while you’re at it, have your hearing tested as well. Here’s why you should:

The hearing loss – diabetes connection

Diabetes and hearing loss
Regular hearing tests allow for early diagnosis of  hearing loss

A study carried out by National Institutes of Health (NIH) and published by the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2008, suggests that diabetics are susceptible to hearing problems because this disease may damage the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear.

The study, which analyzed data from hearing tests administered to over 5,000 participants, shows that patients with diabetes are more than twice as likely to have hearing loss than non-diabetics. Of the diabetics tested, 68% of them were found to have hearing loss in the higher frequencies.

Although this is not the only study demonstrating the connection between diabetes and hearing loss, these statistics alone should justify the need for persons with diabetes to routinely be screened for hearing loss.

While the connection between diabetes and susceptibility to vision loss is well known, unfortunately the statistics of diabetes related hearing loss among diabetics is not. Far too many diabetics do not ask for a hearing test and thus live with undiagnosed hearing loss for quite some time.

Hearing loss due to diabetes is typically a high frequency sensorineural (nerve) hearing loss which can be treated successfully with hearing aids. The earlier a hearing loss is diagnosed the earlier it can be treated. Studies have shown that untreated hearing loss can have a negative impact on quality of life, and conversely, treating hearing loss has a very positive impact on quality of life. Thus for diabetics, the sooner the hearing loss is treated the better.

If you or a loved one has diabetes and have not had a hearing test, consider making an appointment with a hearing professional today. Educate yourself on the various signs and symptoms of hearing loss so you are more aware if and when hearing loss may occur.

This is one message that should not fall on deaf ears this November, or beyond.

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