When you think of hearing loss, diabetes probably isn’t the next thought that comes to mind. There are many other diseases and conditions that are well-known as potential causes of hearing loss: Meniere’s disease, otosclerosis, excessive noise and aging. But research has shown that people with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss, and considering how common diabetes is in the United States, it’s a statistic worth paying attention to.
The connection between diabetes and hearing
"Hearing loss may be an under-recognized complication of diabetes. As diabetes becomes more common, the disease may become a more significant contributor to hearing loss," said Catherine Cowie, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, in a press release from NIH. "Our study found a strong and consistent link between hearing impairment and diabetes using a number of different outcomes."A 2008 study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) examined two groups of people, one with diabetes and one without, that mirrored the national incidence of the disease. Researchers found mild or greater hearing loss of low- to mid-frequency sounds in 21 percent of the 399 adults with diabetes, as opposed to 9 percent in the 4,741 adults without diabetes. High frequency hearing loss was present in 54 percent of diabetics, compared with 32 percent of non-diabetics.
The trend applied to pre-diabetics as well. The study found those with pre-diabetes (meaning those who are on the cusp of developing full-blown diabetes) had a 30 percent greater chance of developing hearing loss than those with normal blood sugar levels. While the exact cause is still uncertain, experts believe high blood sugar levels could damage the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear in the same way they damage the eyes or the kidneys.
In diabetic retinopathy, or blood vessel damage to the eyes caused by diabetes, vessels can swell and leak fluid, or new unnecessary vessels can develop within the retina. Advanced retinopathy can cause blindness. In the kidneys, blood vessels act as filters to strain out waste. Too much glucose puts more pressure on these filters, and eventually causes them to break down and leak fluid.
30 million Americans have diabetes, and 34.5 million have some form of hearing loss.
According to the American Diabetes Association, 30 million Americans have diabetes, and 34.5 million have some form of hearing loss, which makes them two of the most prevalent health concerns in the country. Understanding the risks associated with both diabetes and hearing loss is important in preventing any further complications from occurring. If you have diabetes, or pre-diabetes, be particularly conscious of the fact that you could be more at risk for hearing loss. Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of hearing loss and scheduling routine hearing check-ups with your hearing health practitioner could help you catch hearing loss before it progresses too far.
Further research published in 2012 in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism reinforce the NIH’s previous findings. Studies of about 20,000 individuals across the U.S., Australia, Brazil and various parts of Asia found links between diabetes and hearing loss.
While the prevalence of diabetes is on the rise, certain types of the disease can be prevented or even reversed. According to WebMD, most adults in the U.S. have Type 2, or adult-onset diabetes. There are many causes of Type 2 diabetes, but significant risk factors include obesity, poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Taking steps to improve your overall health lowers your risk of this chronic condition.
Have your hearing checked once a year, much like an annual physical. While your primary care physician checks all of your vitals at a yearly physical, most do not administer a hearing test, or even ask if you’ve been experiencing any problems with your hearing. Chances are, you'll need to be proactive.
Diabetes is a serious medical condition that you will manage with the help of your doctor. Being able to communicate with your medical team and hear the answers to your questions will help you get the most from your treatment plan.
Visit a hearing healthcare professional near you. Get a baseline test so your clinician can help monitor changes that happen over time. When and if you ever need treatment, you can work with your professional to find the right hearing aids for you.