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The Link Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss

If you’ve been recently diagnosed with diabetes, chances are good your hearing health hasn’t been a big concern, but researchers keep finding more reasons why it should be.

Although hearing loss is not a symptom typically associated with type 2 diabetes (unusual thirst, frequent urination, weight change, extreme fatigue, blurred vision and tingling sensations are the main ones), researchers are continuing to study the link between diabetes and hearing loss to determine how strongly these two common health issues are connected.

So why is there thought to be a connection at all? The reason is twofold: statistics show people living with diabetes and prediabetes have a higher rate of hearing loss over time, and, since some documented symptoms of diabetes, such as blurry vision and tingling sensations in the limbs, are related to the body’s nervous system, it is believed diabetes affects our other senses in much the same way.

Let’s take a closer look:

The American Diabetes Association reports that of the 86 million adults in the United States who have pre-diabetes , their rate of hearing loss is 30% higher than in people with normal blood glucose levels.

Another study, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), found that hearing loss is nearly twice as common in adults who have diabetes when compared to people who do not have the disease.

The question is, why? To answer this question, researchers are still searching for a correlation between diabetes and hearing loss.

“The link between diabetes and hearing loss has been debated since the 1960s or before,” says Kathleen Bainbridge, Ph.D., of Social & Scientific Systems, in a statement released by the NIH . “Our results show that a relationship exists even when we account for the major factors known to affect hearing, such as age, race, ethnicity, income level, noise exposure, and the use of certain medications.”

With the knowledge that hearing loss is in fact common in people who have diabetes, the next step for researchers is determining why exactly this occurs. So far, the explanation is mostly speculative.

Here’s what we do know:

Diabetic complications are mainly vascular, meaning they originate in the body’s vascular system (blood vessels). The blood vessels in the human body have the important job of pumping blood throughout the body, essentially feeding its cells, including all of the cells that make up the nervous system.

The most common theory behind diabetic-related hearing loss is that the higher-than-normal blood glucose levels associated with diabetes cause enough damage to the small blood vessels and nerves throughout the body, including those in the inner ear, to impair their function. And when enough damage occurs to the cells of the inner ear, whether the cause is diabetes or something else, sensorineural hearing loss results. This theory linking diabetes and hearing loss is still just a working theory, and research is ongoing.

The long and short of it is that, if left untreated over an extended period of time, it is thought that diabetes can eventually lead to hearing loss, but hearing loss alone is no real indicator (or cause) of diabetes. However, if you’re worried about either health condition, make sure you schedule regular physical exams with your general practitioner.

The earlier issues are caught, the better equipped you will be at managing both your diabetes and your hearing health, and consequently slowing down the effect diabetes may have on your ears.

If you’ve recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and are concerned about the quality of your hearing, we recommend getting a hearing test done so you can establish a baseline for your hearing health. You’ll then be able to monitor any changes in your hearing through annual hearing health checkups.

Fortunately, Beltone audiologists are well aware of the effects diabetes can have on your hearing and can recommend ways to help you. For example, if some hearing loss has already occurred, there are many hearing aids and devices available to help you manage your hearing loss and get on with dealing with the more immediate health concerns caused by diabetes.

Due to the seemingly strong link between diabetes and hearing loss, it is recommended that diabetics be extra vigilant about protecting their hearing. This means wearing ear protection when necessary, avoiding listening to personal music devices at high volumes, and wearing hearing aids as often as they are prescribed.

Following these hearing health recommendations, combined with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and staying on top of your blood sugar levels, will work wonders when it comes to maintaining your hearing health for years to come.

Ken LaFerle, Au.D.
Ken is Beltone's Director of Educational Services and has been "bleeding Beltone Blue" for the last 26 years. He has been working in the hearing industry for the last 31 years and thoroughly enjoys the hearing care field and is looking forward to sharing his thoughts and experiences on the blog. More about Ken

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