Diabetes: A Risk Factor for Hearing Loss

Did you know that there are more than 100 million people living with diabetes or prediabetes in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017)? If you are one of them, it is recommended that you get your hearing checked. According to the American Diabetes Association (2020), people with diabetes are more than twice as likely to develop hearing loss as compared to those without.

What Is Diabetes?

Essentially, diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body turns food into energy. It occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough insulin, which is a hormone that regulates blood sugar, or when the body is unable to use the insulin it produces (World Health Organization, 2018). Elevated blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, is a common result of uncontrolled diabetes and can eventually lead to serious damage to different parts of the body, especially the nerves and blood vessels. You may have already known that there are 3 different types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes, which are described in the graphic below (World Health Organization, 2018).

Type 1: Body fails to produce insulin on its own

Type 2: Body doesn't use insulin well; can't keep blood sugar at normal levels

Gestational: Develops in pregnant woman who have never had diabetes

In a national diabetes statistics report produced by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (CDC), more than 30 million Americans were reported to have diabetes, while over 84 million were reported to have prediabetes (i.e., those whose blood glucose is higher than normal, but not high enough to warrant a diagnosis) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017). This chronic disease is a serious health condition and can unfortunately lead to numerous consequences. In fact, diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, and lower limb amputations (World Health Organization, 2018). Additionally, research has confirmed that there is also a connection between diabetes and hearing loss.

The Correlation to Hearing Loss

Diabetes and hearing loss are two of America’s most widespread health concerns (American Diabetes Association, 2020). Right now, there are several scientific theories related to the link between diabetes and hearing loss, however more research is needed in this area. One theory is that decreased hearing in this population is related to the damage that can occur to the nerves in the body as a result of elevated blood sugars. This is referred to as diabetic neuropathy, which often occurs in the feet and legs. Its symptoms can include pain and numbness and can range in severity from person to person. Researchers that support this theory believe there is some level of damage occurring to the hearing nerve as well. Another theory is related to the effects of the reduced blood supply to the auditory system. The idea behind this theory is that high blood sugars can cause damage to the blood vessels that support the inner ear, and as a result, hearing sensitivity can become impaired. This theory is similar to how elevated blood sugars can have an effect on vision and kidney function (National Institutes of Health, 2008).

As previously mentioned, hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who don’t have the disease. Additionally, adults with prediabetes were found to have a 30% higher rate of hearing loss compared to those with normal blood sugar (National Institutes of Health, 2008).

What Can You Do About It?

Make sure to see a specialist, such as an endocrinologist, to manage your diabetes, and be proactive about your health. Simple lifestyle changes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, and getting physical exercise, have all been shown to be effective at helping to prevent Type 2 diabetes and its complications (WHO, 2018). Additionally, if you or someone you know has diabetes, schedule an appointment with your local audiologist to establish a baseline hearing test, even if hearing loss is not suspected. Routine monitoring of your hearing is important, just like your vision. The hearing loss associated with diabetes can occur slowly and over years, making it difficult to notice. In fact, it is not uncommon that friends and family notice the hearing loss before the person experiencing it. If a hearing loss is diagnosed, your otolaryngologist (ENT) and audiologist can work together to provide you with suitable recommendations to ensure you are receiving the best care and treatment for your hearing health.

American Diabetes Association (2020). Diabetes and hearing loss. Retrieved from https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-and-hearing-loss

National Institutes of Health (2008). Hearing loss is common in people with diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/hearing-loss-common-people-diabetes

World Health Organization (2018). Diabetes. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/diabetes

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