Hearing loss is nearly twice as likely in adults with diabetes compared to adults without diabetes. A chronic health condition, diabetes is a disease that causes increased levels of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. Blood glucose comes from the food we consume and is our main source of energy. Insulin, a hormone made and released by the pancreas, helps convert glucose from food to energy for the cells. Sometimes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t effectively use it which results in excess glucose in the blood. This can contribute to various medical conditions including hearing loss.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Impaired hearing is much more of a common medical condition than you may expect. Nearly 1 in 8 people (ages 12 and older) have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Affecting nearly 432 million people in the world, hearing loss is the third most common health condition that older adults experience.
Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors including: environmental exposure to loud noise, aging, genetic history, and existing medical conditions.
Often developing gradually over time, hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to hear and process sound. Impaired hearing can range from mild to severe and significantly impacts daily life by straining communication. Having conversations and engaging with others can become difficult which impacts relationships, managing job responsibilities, and social life. Untreated hearing loss can also contribute to various health risks such as accidental injuries and cognitive decline.
Hearing Loss & Diabetes
Diabetes can lead to nerve damage that affects many parts of the body, including your hands, feet, eyes, and kidneys. Diabetes can also cause nerve damage in your ears.
Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Low blood sugar over time can damage how the nerve signals travel from the inner ear to your brain. Both types of nerve damage can lead to hearing loss.
Hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes as it is in people of the same age who don’t. Even people with prediabetes (blood sugar levels higher than normal but not high enough yet to have type 2 diabetes) have a 30% higher rate of hearing loss than people with normal blood sugar levels.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can happen slowly, so it can be hard to notice. Often, friends and family members will notice your hearing loss before you do.
Signs of hearing loss include:
- Often asking others to repeat themselves.
- Trouble following conversations with more than one person.
- Thinking that others are mumbling.
- Problems hearing in noisy places, such as busy restaurants.
- Trouble hearing the voices of small children and others with quiet voices.
- Turning up the TV or radio volume too loud for others who are nearby.
Hearing loss can be frustrating for you and your family, and it can affect your social life. There are many reasons to keep your blood sugar in your target range—protecting your hearing is just one of them. Plus, you’ll feel better and have more energy while you do it!
You can’t reverse hearing loss, but you can follow these tips to help protect your ears:
- Keep your blood sugar as close to your target levels as possible.
- Get your hearing checked every year.
- Avoid other causes of hearing loss, including loud noises.
- Ask your doctor whether any medicines you’re taking can damage your hearing and what other options are available.
What should I do if I have diabetes and think I might have a hearing loss?
If you have diabetes and think that you may have a hearing loss, you should contact a hearing professional and have your hearing tested.
Request an appointment at your nearest Ear Institute today!