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Our hearing is affected by many factors, including our health. Diabetes and hearing loss are linked, but how and why?
2019-11-11

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What You Need to Know About Diabetes and Hearing Loss

People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing hearing loss. Let's explore the link between these two conditions, and how people with diabetes can take care of their hearing.

Around 30 million people in the United States alone have diabetes. Among these people, a high percentage of them will develop hearing loss. That begs the question: what’s the connection between diabetes and hearing loss, and how can people with diabetes take care of their hearing? What kind of research has been done about the hearing loss/diabetes link, and what are the symptoms of hearing loss?

Before we can understand the relationship between diabetes and hearing loss, it’s important that we understand each on their own. Hearing loss is a thoroughly explained topic on Signia hearing, but what is diabetes, and how does it affect people who have it?

What is diabetes?

Put simply, diabetes is a condition where your blood glucose levels are too high. In Type 1 diabetes, the body fails to produce any insulin. Some pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, though this usually goes away after birth.

Diabetes can be managed with exercise, meal plans, medication, and insulin injections. There are many helpful diabetes treatment strategies nowadays that can favorably influence medical outcomes and prevent the worst effects of untreated diabetes, such as damage to the blood vessels, eyes, kidneys, and nerves.

Because, over time, diabetes can cause problems with the blood vessels and nerves inside the ears, there is a risk of hearing loss and tinnitus. The link between diabetes and hearing loss is not fully understood. More research is needed to fully understand why so many diabetics experience hearing loss, but there are some explanations for this connection.

The link between diabetes and hearing loss

According to a study by the NIH, diabetics are more than twice as likely to develop mild to moderate hearing loss compared to people without diabetes. This is an extremely high number, one that warrants further research. The existing evidence points towards blood circulation as the problem: diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels, and good circulation helps the hair cells inside the cochlea pick up sound. When these hair cells begin to deteriorate, sensorineural hearing loss occurs.

The issue is that once these hair cells are damaged, they cannot heal or regenerate. Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and can only be treated or alleviated with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Sensorineural hearing loss also occurs slowly over time, making it hard to detect. Many people do not realise they have hearing loss until they are seriously impacted by what they lost, and then it’s too late to preserve it. This makes hearing loss prevention the top priority. With Type 1 diabetes, the correct insulin management is critical in terms of how many complications develop and how early.

As mentioned above, the link between these two conditions has not been intensely researched. As we learn more, it will be easier to combat hearing loss in diabetics, but for now, prevention and treatment are limited. Diabetics must take special care to monitor their hearing, prevent noise exposure, and compensate hearing loss if it occurs.

In order to prevent hearing loss, you must understand why and how it happens. While there are different types of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss is the most common, and it can happen to anyone. This is also the most common form of hearing loss among diabetics. When we are exposed to loud noises, it can wear down the cells inside our cochlea. After too much damage, our ears begin having trouble detecting certain volumes and tones. In diabetics, this effect is exacerbated by poor circulation and nerve damage.

Prevention and detection are the two most important aspects of addressing hearing loss. Knowing the signs of sensorineural hearing loss can help you treat the problem before it begins harming your life and relationships.

Signs of hearing loss

The signs of sensorineural hearing loss are subtle, so it’s important to recognise them when you can. Many of these might be brushed off or attributed to other conditions, so it’s important for diabetics to remain vigilant and remember that mild hearing loss is not always obvious. Symptoms and signs of hearing loss include:

  • Asking people to repeat themselves often
  • Needing to turn up the radio, music, or television more than others
  • Struggling to hear other people’s voices
  • Trouble understanding speech in noisy conditions, like parties, restaurants, or rooms full of people
  • Feeling unusually exhausted after social gatherings or parties
  • Having to focus intensely hard to understand people talking
  • Tinnitus, a ringing/buzzing/humming in the ears

If you notice any of these symptoms in yourself, consider going in for a hearing screening. While you need to visit an audiologist to get a full panel audiogram, you can test your hearing quickly using the Signia Hearing Test. You should go in for an audiogram every few years, but this online test can give you an idea of what your hearing is like. If it seems like there’s something wrong, you can go in for a full evaluation.

Diabetes and tinnitus

Tinnitus, in particular, is common among diabetics with hearing loss. Tinnitus can come in many different forms, but most often it’s a persistent sound. These sounds can include:

These phantom noises can vary in pitch and volume, and they might fluctuate. For instance, sometimes your tinnitus might just be background noise to whatever you’re doing. Other times, it might drown out your ability to hear anything else. There are two types of tinnitus: objective and subjective. Objective tinnitus is rare and can be heard by your doctor when they check your ears. It is most often caused by a damaged blood vessel. Subjective tinnitus is only heard by you.

Tinnitus can be treated in tandem with hearing loss or alleviated using tinnitus-specific treatments. If you’re suffering from tinnitus, it can be a sign that something more serious, like actual hearing loss, is the actual root of the problem.

Protecting your hearing while diabetic

It’s important to remember that sensorineural hearing loss can occur in anyone, regardless of age. In fact, many people under the age of 50 have mild hearing loss, and this number is higher among diabetics. Diabetics are more likely than any other group to experience hearing loss at a young age.

You can do this by:

  • Turning down the volume. When you’re wearing earbuds or headphones, keep the volume low and limit yourself to a few hours per day. Constantly funneling sound into your ears is a serious form of noise exposure. You should also avoid playing the TV or radio too loud, especially in small cars or rooms with surround sound speakers.
  • Wear earplugs to concerts, festivals, and car shows. While some people find earplugs silly or pointless, they’re just putting their hearing at risk.
  • Take breaks. Humans are not meant to live in places with constant sound. Turn off your music and television from time to time and enjoy the quiet. This gives your ears a chance to rest and recover. If you live in the city, spend a few hours every day with sound-cancelling headphones or earplugs in.
  • Protect your hearing at work. If you work in loud conditions like the military, around machinery, or in construction, make sure to take the necessary precautions. Workers in these areas are the most likely to lose their hearing, and diabetes puts you more at risk.
  • Get tested regularly. You should get your hearing tested every few years, if not more. Diabetics, in particular, should make a habit of getting audiograms.

Was this article helpful to you? Regardless of whether or not you have hearing loss, there’s much to learn about your ears and how they work. Signia Hearing puts out informational articles every week, and we have an archive full of content for you to explore. To stay updated on future articles, you can subscribe to our newsletter.

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