Diabetes and the Risk of Hearing Impairment

No one wants to hear that diabetes is correlated with a greater risk of hearing loss, but that is what researchers have found. Having diabetes may double your chances of experiencing some type of hearing loss.

It is another reason, though there are already more than enough, for people diagnosed with diabetes to maintain healthy-as-possible blood glucose levels.

Auditory Apparatus and Glucose

Many research studies on hearing loss and diabetes do not differentiate between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. There may be hearing-related issues connected to each type yet unknown. However, many experts theorize it is the effects of high blood sugar, and not the diabetes onset mechanism, which can harm our auditory apparatus.

High blood sugar is known to damage the body’s small blood vessels and the nerves those vessels feed. It makes sense to most scientists that the same type of effects can occur within the intricacies of our ear. The capillaries and cells involved with hearing are tiny and sometimes delicate, not designed to handle glucose-heavy blood flow.

Still, there could be other reasons for a diabetes-hearing loss connection. For instance, side effects from the drugs many diabetics use, such as blood pressure medications, may turn out to be involved.

Concerns About Hearing

Regardless of why diabetes is linked with hearing impairment, statistics in the U.S. show that more than 70 percent of those with diabetes, ages 50 to 69, have high-range hearing loss and about 33 percent have low- to mid-frequency loss. Auditory impairment also seems to begin at earlier ages in those with diabetes, and people with pre-diabetes are at greater risk for problems as well.

Diabetes-related hearing loss may never become severe enough to require a hearing aid. However, if you frequently find yourself complaining that others are mumbling, or family and friends annoy you with concerns about your hearing, significant hearing loss might have crept up on you.

Other indications of impairment are difficulty hearing in noisy places such as restaurants, trouble hearing the softer voices of children and women, being unable to follow a conversation with three or more people, frequently asking people to repeat themselves, and others complaining that you turn the radio or TV up too loudly.

Staying in the Conversation

There is no cure for diabetes-related hearing loss, and the only prevention is a healthy diet, medication compliance and regular exercise. However, disciplined diabetes management is not a guarantee against impairment.

Fortunately, just as technological advances have shrunk once-giant computers to the size of wristwatches, hearing aids have also become smaller – and more efficient. If you suspect hearing loss, see your doctor or an audiologist for an examination.

By getting what you need to get back into the thick of conversations, you can avoid nasty hearing loss side effects such as social isolation and depression.

Sources: ASHA; Diabetic Living Online; Diabetes; ADA
Photo credit: Travis Isaacs - flickr

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