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The Connection Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss

If you're a diabetic, you are accustomed to having routine health screenings for your kidneys, eyes and feet.  Newer research confirms it's a good idea to have your hearing checked, too.

In July 2008, the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss than those who don't have the disease. Even those who have elevated blood glucose levels but haven't yet developed diabetes are 30 percent more likely to have hearing loss than those with normal blood glucose levels.

Diabetes affects more than 26 million children and adults in the United States and is a major cause of heart disease and stroke as well as the most common cause of kidney failure, blindness and lower limb amputations in adults. According to the American Diabetes Association, seven million of these individuals do not know they have the disease and an additional 79 million have prediabetes, which puts them at risk for developing type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, affecting more than 90 percent of Americans with diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn't produce enough insulin or doesn't use it properly.

Health professionals believe diabetes affects your hearing in a variety of ways:

  • High blood glucose levels produced by diabetes cause chemical changes in the blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear, affecting the body's ability to transmit sound.
  • Diabetes may also create a sensitivity to certain kinds of plastics used in hearing aid manufacturing, causing yeast, fungus and infection in the ear canal.
  • Diabetes causes the walls of the cochlea to thicken and lose hair cells. Hair cells in the inner ear are essential for hearing and balance.

Diabetic women seem to be more susceptible to developing hearing loss than their male counterparts. A new study from the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found the worst levels of hearing loss were found in women who didn't control their diabetes properly.

If you are overweight, talk to your doctor about a diet and exercise program. Losing weight and regulating  your blood sugar is beneficial for the blood vessels and nerves in your inner ear as well as your overall health. Studies show that losing just 7 percent of your body weight can significantly reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

You may have hearing loss if it's difficult to hear someone three feet from you speaking in a normal voice, if you have trouble understanding conversation in a restaurant or other noisy environment, or if you find yourself asking people to repeat themselves. If you notice you're having problems hearing, have your hearing tested by an audiologist. They can determine the cause of your hearing loss and recommend an appropriate treatment plan. 

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