A Link between Hearing Loss & Diabetes

A Link between Hearing Loss & Diabetes

Have you been diagnosed with diabetes? Its not unheard of – in fact, according to the American Diabetes Association, over 30 million people have diabetes in the U.S., amounting to nearly 11% of the population and this number is constantly growing. 1.5 Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year! This chronic condition causes increased levels of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream and ultimately affects our bodies ability to support healthy cells throughout the body, including the ears. Did you know that hearing loss is nearly twice as likely in adults with diabetes compared to adults without diabetes?

How Diabetes Affects the Body

Diabetes affects our body’s ability to absorb blood sugar. Blood sugar, also known as glucose, comes from the food we consume and gives our body and each of our cells the energy they need to sustain themselves. Our body convert glucose into energy for our cells via a chemical called insulin which is produced in the pancreas. Diabetes occurs when our body doesn’t create a sufficient amount of insulin in order to allow the cells to absorb glucose, raising the blood sugar levels in our blood. When this goes unmanaged it can cause a wide array of health risks including: 

  • Eye problems
  • Circulation issues in the extremities such as the feet which can lead to amputation
  • Heart attack and stroke.
  • Kidney issues
  • Nerve damage 
  • Gum disease 
  • Cancer
  • Hearing loss

Understanding Hearing Loss 

For generations, the severity of hearing loss has long been underestimated. What starts as miscommunication issues quickly escalates into self isolation, chronic depression, cognitive decline and an increased risk of falls and accidents leading to hospitalizations. While sound is collected with our ears, it’s actually our brain which processes sound. It receives sounds from the ears, via tiny hair like cells called stereocilia which convert audio waves into electrical impulses which are received by the brain. 

Diabetes and Hearing Loss

The stereocilia rely on a healthy supply of blood to stay healthy. They are so fragile that they are at a high risk from changes or even temporary depletions of nutrients and blood. Because diabetes affects the cells across the entire body, the fragile stereocilia cells of our inner ear is no exception. This is why people with diabetes are at twice the risk for heairng loss than toughs without complications with diabetes. In fact, a major 2008  study from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) analyzed results from hearing tests and responses to a diabetes questionnaire administered from 1999-2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This groundbreaking study included 11,405 participants ranging from 20 – 69 and found that those with diabetes had a notably higher risk of hearing loss. The research showed that:

  • For those with low-Mid Frequency Hearing Loss:
    • 21% percent in adults with diabetes 
    • 9% in adults without diabetes 
  • For those with High Frequency Hearing Loss:
    • 54% percent in adults with diabetes 
    • 32% in adults without diabetes 

Senior author of the study, Catherine Cowie, reported: “”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.” 

Treating Diabetes as Hearing Loss Prevention

This study demonstrates that because of the high risk of hearing loss in diabetes, if you’ve been diagnosed, it’s a good idea to include monitoring your hearing as part of diabetes treatment. While there is no cure for hearing loss it can be effectively treated using hearing aids. Hearing aids are electronic devices which amplify the sounds which you struggle to hear so you can communicate with greater ease.

Have Your Hearing Tested

If you have diabetes or even if you’ve been diagnosed with prediabetes, it’s a good idea to attend regular hearing screenings. Don’t let your hearing go unaddressed for too long. When unaddressed it can lead to rifts in relationships and cognitive decline which is often incredibly difficult to reverse. If you are managing your diabetes, talk to your doctor about scheduling regular hearing exams. Hearing tests are quick and painless and can give us an idea of the status of your hearing health. Contact us today to schedule your next exam!