More than 34 million people in the U.S. have diabetes. This chronic condition impacts how the body produces energy from the food we consume. Most of the food that we eat turns into glucose (sugar) which enters the bloodstream. The pancreas emits insulin when blood sugar increases to allow our cells to convert the glucose into energy. Diabetes prevents the body from making insulin or using the insulin it does produce, effectively. This results in excess glucose in the bloodstream which can lead to various health conditions including hearing loss.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition that older adults experience. Increasingly becoming a public health epidemic, hearing loss impacts over 40 million people in the U.S. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, nearly 1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Impaired hearing reduces one’s ability to hear and process sound which can significantly impact the capacity to manage daily tasks and responsibilities. Hearing loss strains communication, affecting relationships, job performance, social engagement etc.
There are several factors that can contribute to the development of hearing loss including environmental exposure to loud noise, genetic history, and existing medical conditions. Various health conditions are linked to hearing loss: cardiovascular disease, hypertension, obesity, stroke, and diabetes.
Link Between Hearing Loss & Diabetes
The relationship between diabetes and hearing loss has long been studied. Research has shown that the two chronic health conditions are correlated. In a significant 2008 study, conducted by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, researchers investigated this link:
– Study: part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the CDC collected data from 1999 to 2004 on hearing ability and diabetes. Participants were between the ages of 20-69.
– Findings: the findings revealed that adults with diabetes were more likely to also have hearing loss, specifically, for:
o Low-Mid frequency sounds:
- 21% percent in adults with diabetes
- 9% in adults without diabetes
o High frequency sounds:
- 54% percent in adults with diabetes
- 32% in adults without diabetes
These statistics highlight that people with diabetes were twice as likely to have hearing loss compared to people without diabetes.
Diabetes & Hearing Health
Though diabetes has been identified as a risk factor for developing hearing loss, how diabetes contributes to hearing loss remains the focus of ongoing research. Researchers suggest that the excess glucose in the bloodstream damages the nerves and small blood vessels in the inner ear. The hair cells, nerve endings, and blood vessels in the inner ear are critical for how we process sound. These components help convert soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to process. Damage to the inner ear, disrupts this process and results in hearing loss.
Protecting Your Hearing Health
It is important to be as proactive as you can about your hearing health. If you have, or are predisposed to diabetes, it is critical to be aware of the symptoms of hearing loss which include the following:
– Increasing the volume on electronic devices (phone, speaker, television)
– Difficulty following conversations (sounds are muffled)
– Frequently asking others to repeat themselves, speak loudly and/or slowly
– Needing to move to a quieter area to have a conversation
– Being able to hear better in one ear vs. the other
– Trouble hearing especially in environments with background noise
– Tinnitus which is a buzzing or ringing noise in one or both ears
If you identify with any of these symptoms, you should have your hearing assessed as soon as possible. This is fairly simple and starts with making an appointment for a hearing test with a hearing healthcare specialist. Hearing tests involve a noninvasive process that measures your hearing ability in both ears. This determines any impairment, the degree, and specific type of hearing loss you may be impacted by.
Fortunately, there are effective ways to treat hearing loss. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are electronic devices designed to absorb, amplify, and process sound which helps a person hear much more effectively and with greater ease.