Senior woman sitting on the couch eating a salad and talking about diabetes and hearing loss.

Diabetes and Hearing Loss

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a condition where your blood glucose (blood sugar) levels are too high. The body cannot produce and/or manage a hormone called insulin appropriately, causing glucose to build up in the bloodstream instead of feeding hungry cells.

Types of diabetes

  1. Those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes have an autoimmune response in which the body does not produce any insulin or does not produce enough insulin required to move glucose into cells. Individuals with this type of diabetes need to take insulin daily, depending on their body’s needs. Type 1 diabetes usually affects children and young adults.
  2. Type 2 diabetes generally affects adults and occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot effectively use the insulin produced. About 90 to 95% of individuals with diabetes have type 2.
  3. Some pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, a condition in which hormones make the body’s cells more resistant to insulin. Gestational diabetes usually disappears once the woman gives birth.

How does diabetes affect someone?

Symptoms of diabetes include frequent urination, increased thirst and/or hunger, sleepiness, weight loss, blurred vision, difficulty in concentrating, and slow healing of infections. Diabetes affects the circulatory systems throughout the body, causing progressive and/or permanent damage. It is a major cause of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, lower-limb amputations, blindness, and hearing loss.

What is the link between diabetes and hearing loss?

People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing hearing loss. Research has shown diabetics are more than twice as likely to develop a mild to moderate hearing loss than those without the disease, regardless of age.
Scientists are not entirely sure why diabetes negatively impacts hearing. It is possible that high blood glucose levels cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear, which is similar to the way in which diabetes can damage the eye and the kidneys.

Like other parts of the body, the hair cells of the inner ear rely on good circulation to remain healthy. These hair cells transmit sound in the form of electrical impulses to the auditory nerve and the brain. If the hair cells die or are damaged, hearing is permanently affected. Exposure to high blood sugar over a long time can also cause chemical changes that impact the nervous system and damage the eighth cranial nerve, which is responsible for transmitting sound and balance information from your inner ear to the brain. Even slightly elevated blood sugar over time can interfere with the enzyme known as the ATPase pump, which creates the optimal potassium and sodium concentrations for inner ear fluid and affects balance and hearing.

The type of hearing loss most commonly seen in individuals with type 2 diabetes is a bilateral high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss which usually worsens with age. Audiogram results from large populations of people with diabetes have shown that hearing loss can also affect both low and high frequencies, with better hearing in the middle frequencies, resulting in an audiogram with a “cookie-bite” shape.

Tinnitus or “ringing in the ears” is common among diabetics with hearing loss. Tinnitus can come in many different forms, but most often it is a persistent sound that may be perceived as a buzzing, humming, ringing, roaring, or hissing. These 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 be more severe and bothersome.

How to protect your health and your hearing if you have diabetes

Diabetes and hearing loss are very common disorders affecting millions of people worldwide. Both can be quickly and easily detected by screening tests. Unfortunately, these disorders often remain undetected until the patient has an “incident” that calls for further evaluation. Diabetes and hearing loss cannot be cured; however, they can be controlled and managed. It is important for individuals to be proactive to prevent these disorders from progressing more quickly.

There are many helpful diabetes treatment strategies that can improve medical outcomes and prevent the worst effects of untreated diabetes. Treatment may include:

  • Medication and insulin injections: With Type 1 diabetes, the correct insulin management is critical in terms of how many complications develop and how early they appear.
  • Adjustments to your diet: An appropriate diet will help you control your blood sugar levels and maintain a healthy weight. Excessive weight makes it more difficult for your heart to pump and circulate blood effectively.
  • Exercise: Incorporating an appropriate amount of exercise into your daily routine will also help to improve blood circulation and blood flow.

Diabetics should also take special care in maintaining good hearing health. The following strategies can help you prevent or detect any hearing-related issues:

  • Limit noise exposure: You can protect your hearing from excessive noise by turning down the volume on personal electronic devices, the television, and the car radio. It is important to wear earplugs if you work in an environment with high noise levels, such as construction sites or the military. Workers in these areas are the most likely to lose their hearing. Earplugs should also be worn if you enjoy noisy hobbies such as shooting or attending music concerts. Spend time in a quiet environment to give your ears a chance to rest and recover.
  • Monitor your hearing: Since diabetics are more likely than any other group to experience hearing loss at a young age, you should have a routine yearly routine hearing screening/test so that any deterioration in hearing can be detected as early as possible. It is also important to be aware of the early signs of hearing loss and seek help sooner rather than later. If you are frequently asking others to repeat themselves, have trouble following conversations in groups of people, or think others are mumbling, this could indicate the onset of hearing difficulties.
  • Manage your hearing loss and /or tinnitus: Your hearing healthcare professional can assist you in diagnosing and treating a hearing loss before it begins to negatively affect your life and relationships. If you experience tinnitus, this can be treated together with hearing loss or alleviated using tinnitus-specific treatments.

Remember that by taking control of your diabetes and hearing loss, the end result will be better health and improved quality of life.

Lexie Hearing

Living with untreated hearing loss can easily leave you feeling fatigued as your brain needs to work harder to follow conversations and hear environmental sounds. Many diabetics experience fatigue as well, meaning the combination of hearing loss and diabetes can keep you from living life to the fullest. This is why it is so important to look after your hearing health and if you’re diagnosed with hearing loss to strongly consider getting hearing aids. Wearing hearing aids will lessen the strain on your brain and body and leave you feeling more connected to the world around you. Lexie Lumen hearing aids are an affordable solution to your hearing needs. Reach out today to take control of your hearing health.

Blog author and hearing expert, Jenny Birkenstock

Written byJenny Birkenstock

B. Speech Therapy and Audiology; Masters in Play Therapy

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