By Mary Leisses
The relationship between hearing loss and diabetes has long been debated. But research now concludes that hearing loss is more prevalent in adults with diabetes.
One research study included data from participants ranging in age from 20 to 69. Important information they found:
- People with diabetes were 2x more likely to have hearing loss than people without.
- People who are pre-diabetic are 30% more likely to have hearing loss.
Other studies have supported these results. Let’s look at some of the possible reasons diabetes and hearing loss are linked, what diabetics can do to protect their hearing, and how they can get help now.
How is diabetes a risk factor for hearing loss?
The short answer is we don’t know precisely. Some researchers believe that diabetes damages the hearing nerves. Think of it as neuropathy of the hearing nerve. High blood sugars can damage nerves throughout your body. This is known as diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy most often occurs in your feet and legs.
Depending on the affected nerves, symptoms of diabetic neuropathy can range from pain and numbness in your legs and feet to problems with other areas of your body, including your digestive system and heart. Symptoms vary from person to person and may be mild or may be debilitating. Researchers think this same damage may be happening to the hearing nerve.
Another theory is that high blood sugars may damage the very small blood vessels that support and feed the inner ear. This is similar to how high blood sugars can affect vision and kidney function. The blood vessel system that feeds the ear is very similar to the systems that support the eyes and kidneys. As this system is damaged, hearing is compromised.
The common denominator in both theories? High blood sugars!
Can diabetics do anything to protect against hearing loss?
What we do know is that the better people can control their blood sugar, the less likely it will be that high blood sugar can affect their hearing. Following medication and diet treatment plans are critical to hearing protection for people with diabetes.
There is another important variable here. As a person’s hearing decreases, the likelihood of social isolation and depression increases. Diabetics who are isolated and depressed may struggle more with their treatment plans and managing their blood sugars. This can become a bit of spiral with the various factors aggravating each other. It is important to keep an eye out for symptoms of hearing loss, depression and social isolation.
Take control of your hearing now
Whether or not you think you have hearing loss, it’s advised that if you have diabetes, you should get a baseline measurement of your hearing as soon as possible. Going forward, yearly hearing tests are recommended. Like your vision, your hearing can be stable for a long time and then shift over a short period of time. Regular monitoring of your hearing can make sure your medical team is able to provide treatment as soon as possible if and once your hearing starts to change.
If you have symptoms of hearing loss, it is even more important for you to get your hearing checked. The sooner we can treat the hearing loss, the less impact it can have on your mood and outlook.