Have You Heard? Diabetes Is A Risk Factor For Hearing Loss

Aging and smoking are two factors that increase the likelihood of hearing loss. A third factor is having diabetes.

Having pre-diabetes increases our chances for hearing loss by 30 percent compared to people with normal glucose levels, and those with type 1 or 2 diabetes are twice as likely to experience hearing impairment.

That diabetes can affect hearing is not surprising since elevated glucose can gradually damage the nerves and small blood vessels our delicate inner ear structures rely on. This type of damage is, so far, irreversible.

Noticing the Problem

Hearing professionals have noticed that diabetes-related hearing loss often shows up in the low, or middle frequency sound range, and as people get older those with diabetes tend to have severer hearing loss than their non-diabetes peers.

However, hearing loss symptoms are much the same for everyone, and people are generally slow to acknowledge the symptoms, whether they have diabetes or not.

Our hearing might be impaired if:

  • The people close to us observe we are not hearing well in certain situations, or they remark we are speaking more loudly than necessary.
  • We notice it’s become more of an effort to hear, or we find ourselves “straining” to catch people’s words, or frequently ask, “What did you say?”
  • We may feel embarrassed about not hearing well, or get frustrated and find ourselves arguing with family members.
  • We frequently think people are mumbling, or we don't understand what’s being said even when people talk directly to us.
  • We frequently turn up the volume on our devices; the people around us may complain that we have the TV or radio on “too loud.”
  • We lose interest in social activities we once enjoyed, such as going out to eat, or playing cards with friends.

Since hearing capacity can diminish extremely gradually, it’s normal to feel perplexed, incredulous, resistant, or even angry when symptoms become apparent. As with any other loss, acceptance takes time.

Protecting Our Hearing

Naturally, the primary way to protect our hearing, if we have diabetes, is good glucose management. All the daily steps we take with diet, exercise, monitoring, and medication helps us prevent, or delay - often for years - glucose related health complications.

There are other ways we can protect our hearing as well:

  • Improve blood flow in the ears by getting regular cardio exercise, such as walking, swimming, biking, or jogging.
  • When visiting noisy places (e.g., music event, bar), go outside for a five-minute noise-break about once every hour.
  • Ear plugs, and noise canceling headphones are good ways to protect our ears from lawn mower, power tool, or other machinery noise. They also come in handy if someone near and dear starts snoring.
  • Over-the-ear headphones provide higher sound quality at lower volumes than inside-the-ear listening devices (e.g., earbuds) making headphones a wise choice for at-home music enjoyment.

Those who smoke are at greater risk for all diabetes complications, including hearing loss, so they might consider talking to a medical professional about options for quitting.

See An Audiologist

If a hearing problem is suspected, or if it’s been years since our last hearing test, a visit to an audiologist is in order. Though none of us want to find out our hearing has drastically changed, getting an impairment corrected can help us re-engage socially, and lessen communication frustrations.

Hearing aids today are small, nearly invisible, and can adjust for high and low frequency distortions. While they may never match the nuanced perfection of natural hearing, they can unobtrusively enhance the quality of our life.

Source: Health/U.S. News; AARP; Dibetic living Online
Photo credit: Bundesinnung Horakustiker

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