It is a generally accepted fact in the hearing community that hearing impairments and diabetes type 1 and type 2 are linked.
This connection makes diabetes a high risk factor for acquiring a hearing loss, with some studies showing that adults with diabetes are twice as likely to develop a hearing loss as those who do not have the disease.
These results were found even after accounting for other risk factors such as age, ethnicity, noise exposure, and the use of ototoxic medications.
What Is the Link between Diabetes and Hearing Loss?
Because so many of the body’s functions are affected by its ability to utilize glucose, it is no surprise that one’s hearing and balance can also be affected by diabetes.
A 2008 study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) evaluated the hearing of all 11,405 participants with a focus on their ability to hear low, middle, and high-frequency sounds in both ears using pure tone audiometry.
The participants with diabetes showed greater evidence of hearing loss in all frequencies. Depending on the frequency heard, 21% – 54% of those with diabetes had a mild or moderate hearing loss while only 9% – 32% of those without diabetes did.
Some of the participants did not have a diagnosis of diabetes, but their blood glucose level was higher than normal (considered pre-diabetic). Even they were 30% more likely to have a hearing loss compared to those with normal blood sugar levels.
In a smaller study, patients with type 2 diabetes were 5% more likely to have a hearing loss than those with normal blood sugar levels.
And in a different small study, 11.7% of participants with normal blood sugar levels showed some hearing loss while almost 100% of those with high blood sugar levels were found to have some degree of hearing loss.
This highlights the need for regular hearing assessments for anyone with pre-diabetes or type 1 or type 2 diabetes.
How Does Diabetes Lead to Hearing Loss?
There are a few ways in which diabetes might lead to hearing loss.
- It can damage the auditory nerves – these send signals from the ear to the brain.
- High sugar levels can damage the tiny blood vessels in the inner ear.
- The reduced blood flow to the cochlea can damage its sensory and support cells.
Coauthor of the study, Howard Hoffman, an epidemiologist at NIDCD, said, “We found an association between diabetes and hearing impairment evident as early as ages 30 to 40.”
What Are the Symptoms of Hearing Loss in People with Diabetes?
The symptoms of hearing loss in people with diabetes are the same as the symptoms of hearing loss in people without diabetes. These symptoms include:
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Having to ask people to repeat themselves
- Turning up the volume on the television or radio
Read our article about further signs of hearing loss for more symptoms to look out for.
How Can You Protect Your Hearing If You Have Diabetes?
If you have diabetes, there are a few things you can do to help protect your hearing.
- Control your blood sugar levels as much as possible – If you have type 1 diabetes, one study showed that when red blood cells have a high glucose content, this causes “a 32% increase in impaired speech perception and a 19% increase in high-frequency hearing loss.”
- See your doctor every one to two years for a hearing test.
- Stop smoking and restrict caffeine intake – Smoking constricts blood vessels and decreases blood flow to the inner ear. This can lead to damage to the tiny hair cells in the ear that are essential for hearing.
- Avoid loud noise exposure. If you must be exposed to loud noise, make sure to use ear protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs.
- Ask your doctor to check if any of your medications are ototoxic — damaging to the hearing — 26% of FDA-approved medications to treat diabetes could affect hearing, and more than 50% affect balance.
How to Protect Your Hearing If You Are Pre-diabetic
If you are pre-diabetic, meaning your blood sugar levels are higher than normal and you have been advised that you could develop type 2 diabetes in the next ten years or so, we recommend taking the same protective measures mentioned above.
We also recommend that you try to bring your sugar levels back down to normal with the help of a healthy diet, increased exercise, and prescribed medications that help lower blood pressure, etc.
What Treatments Are Available for People with Both Diabetes and Hearing Loss?
If you have diabetes and are experiencing a hearing loss, there are treatments available that can help. These treatments include:
- Hearing aids
- Cochlear implants
- Assistive listening devices
Can Hearing Loss Be Reversed in People with Diabetes?
If you have diabetes, it is important to monitor your hearing and visit a doctor if you notice any changes. There are many treatments available for hearing loss, and the sooner you seek help, the better your chances of preserving your hearing.
If you think you may be experiencing a hearing loss and are in the Michigan or Ohio area, contact us to book a hearing test or a hearing aid consultation, and we’ll help you decide on the next steps of your hearing journey.