The connection between diabetes and hearing loss
More than 30 million Americans have diabetes — if you're one of them, take note. You may want to keep a close watch on your hearing, too. Research indicates diabetics are more than twice as likely to develop hearing loss than those without the disease.
What is diabetes?
Very simply, diabetes inhibits the body’s ability to produce and/or manage insulin appropriately, causing glucose to build up in the bloodstream instead of feeding hungry cells. The number of people diagnosed with this disease is on the rise, jumping more than 50 percent in the last decade, according to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation.
There are three types of diabetes:
In all three cases, the result is an elevation in blood sugar levels which must be managed. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, amputations, heart failure and stroke. Symptoms of the disease include frequent urination, increased thirst and/or hunger, sleepiness, weight loss, blurred vision, difficulty in concentrating and slow healing of infections.
What does diabetes have to do with hearing loss?
In recent years, two studies have examined the relationship between diabetes and hearing loss.
Scientists are not entirely sure why diabetes negatively impacts the sense of hearing; however, they suspect high blood glucose levels cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear.
Like other parts of the body, the hair cells of the inner ear rely on good circulation to maintain health. These hair cells are responsible for translating the noise our ears collect into electrical impulses, which they send along the auditory nerve to the brain to interpret as recognizable sound. These sensory hair cells, known as stereocilia, do not regenerate. Once they are damaged or die, hearing is permanently affected. The resulting sensorineural hearing loss can often be treated with hearing devices such as hearing aids or cochlear devices. A hearing evaluation will determine the amount of hearing loss; a hearing healthcare professional can interpret those results to recommend appropriate treatment options.
How to protect your hearing if you have diabetes
Although sensorineural hearing loss is permanent, it is possible to protect your remaining hearing.
Most importantly, schedule a hearing evaluation with a hearing healthcare professional as soon as possible and share your diabetes diagnosis as part of your medical history. This information, along with the results of your hearing evaluation, will help the two of you determine the best course of treatment going forward.