Diabetes and hearing loss are among the most common health conditions that people experience. According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 34 million people have diabetes. Additionally, nearly 48 million people experience some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Research has shown that there is overlap between these chronic medical conditions. Studies have revealed that people with diabetes (compared to those without) can be twice as likely to develop hearing loss.
Link Between Hearing Loss and Diabetes
Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors including environmental exposure to loud noise, genetic history, aging, and head injuries. It can also be caused by existing medical conditions like hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Various studies have established a correlation between both hearing loss and diabetes. This includes a major 2008 study, conducted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders:
- Study: researchers at the CDC collected data from 1999 to 2004 that included hearing test results and responses to a diabetes questionnaire for 11,405 participants (ages of 20-69).
- Findings: adults with diabetes were more likely to also have hearing loss, specifically:
- Low-Mid frequency sounds:
- 21% percent in adults with diabetes
- 9% in adults without diabetes
- High-frequency sounds:
- 54% percent in adults with diabetes
- 32% in adults without diabetes
These statistics show that people with diabetes were twice as likely to have hearing loss compared to the participants without diabetes. In discussing these findings, senior author of the study Catherine Cowie stated, “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”.
How Does Diabetes Impact Hearing?
Diabetes is a condition that affects the body’s process of turning food into energy. The food we eat is broken down into sugar (or glucose) and enters the bloodstream. The pancreas produces and releases insulin, a hormone, which helps cells convert glucose into energy. Diabetes refers to either the pancreas not producing glucose or the body not using the insulin that is produced effectively. This causes glucose to accumulate in the bloodstream which can lead to the development of various health conditions including hearing loss. But how exactly does diabetes impact hearing?
Researchers suggest that the excess glucose in the bloodstream is harmful for the nerves and small blood vessels in the inner ear. The hair cells, nerve endings, and blood vessels in the inner ear play an integral role in how sound is processed. These components work to convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals. These signals then travel via auditory pathways to the brain where they are further processed, enabling us to understand what we hear. Damage to nerves and restricted blood vessels caused by diabetes can disrupt this process, resulting in permanent hearing loss.
Treatment & Tips to Protect Hearing Health
If you have diabetes or are predisposed, it is important to really prioritize your hearing health because you may experience an increased risk. A great way to do this is to have your hearing assessed regularly. Hearing tests are conducted by hearing healthcare professionals (likely an audiologist). They involve a noninvasive and painless process that measures hearing ability in both ears. This identifies any impairment and the degree of hearing loss you could be experiencing. After establishing your hearing needs, your hearing healthcare provider is able to recommend treatment to effectively meet those needs. The most common treatment for hearing loss is hearing aids which are electronic devices that provide significant support, maximizing hearing capacity.
In addition to having your hearing tested, there are a few tips you can practice to protect your hearing health including the following:
- wear protective gear: earmuffs, earplugs, earbuds etc. which serve as a protective barrier for your ears, reducing the impact of loud noise
- take listening breaks which allows your ears and brain to rest from constantly absorbing sound
- reduce exposure to loud noise by keeping volume down on electronic devices, avoiding noisy settings, seeking accommodations in the workplace etc.
- staying mindful of any hearing loss symptoms and intervening early if you experience changes to your hearing!
If you are experiencing hearing loss or changes to your hearing, we’re here to help! Contact us today to schedule an appointment.