Hearing Loss

Diabetes and Increased Risks of Hearing Loss

Studies have shown that individuals with diabetes to have an increased risk of developing hearing loss. In this article, we explore the curious connection between these two conditions.

What is diabetes? 

Diabetes is a condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar/glucose. Blood glucose is your main source of energy and comes from the food you eat. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, helps glucose get into your cells to be used for energy. With diabetes, the body doesn’t make enough insulin, meaning the nutrients that would come from glucose stays in the blood and doesn’t get a chance to nourish the cells of the body.

How does diabetes lead to hearing loss? 

Research suggests that diabetes may lead to hearing loss by way of blood glucose content. 

When blood sugar rises, “there is a breakdown of nerves in the ears - the same kind of nerve damage that causes tingling and other symptoms in the fingertips and toes,” says Joanne Rinker, RD, CDE, with the North Carolina Diabetes Prevention and Control Branch. “What’s more, the blood vessels in the ears are very small. “When blood sugar is high, blood running through the veins is like syrup,” she says. 

High concentrations of blood glucose damage the small blood vessels and nerves of the inner ear, which are crucial to the sense of hearing. Since hearing depends on these small blood vessels and nerves, researchers are increasingly convinced that diabetes can cause ear damage and hearing loss. 

The relationship between hearing loss and diabetes

A landmark study in 2008 used U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination audiometric results from 5,140 adults between the ages of 20 to 69 years. Before this groundbreaking report, previous studies only hinted at an association between diabetes and hearing impairment. Survey results from this national sample found a higher prevalence of hearing damage among diabetics (21%) than non-diabetics (9%).

Another study, published in 2014, confirmed these results. Researchers from Korea surveyed a cross-section of 37,773 individuals. They found that the prevalence of hearing loss increases with age, and was higher in subjects with than without diabetes.

Interestingly, the strongest association between diabetes and hearing loss was noted in younger survey respondents (those less than 60 years old). This is important because hearing loss in this younger age group is uncommon, suggesting a connection between the diabetes diagnosis and hearing loss. 

90% of individuals with hearing loss have sensorineural hearing loss. Diabetics show higher incidences of sensorineural hearing loss, giving support to the claim that blood glucose injure the small blood vessels of the inner ear.

In addition, diabetes has also been shown to induce progressive bilateral sensorineural hearing loss with aspects similar to presbycusis, including greater hearing loss at high frequencies. Hearing thresholds at low frequencies are correlated with serum glucose concentrations. 

Rising rates of diabetes and hearing loss

The CDC reported that 30.3 million people in the United States had diabetes as of 2015. That’s 9.4% of the U.S. population. Alarmingly, the incidence of diabetes is increasing, not decreasing.

Human beings are also living longer. Hearing loss is age-related and so the rising global median age will mean that more individuals will be in need of hearing aids. 

To summarize, diabetics have a 50% higher chance of developing hearing loss. Knowing this information, public health initiatives recommend that diabetics screen themselves for hearing loss. The best way to be on the right side of the statistics is by monitoring blood sugar levels and managing your diabetes.

There is still a chance that when a patient is in the early stages of diabetes they can have normal levels of hearing, but when diabetes becomes chronic, and the risk of hearing loss goes up exponentially.

One study found that hearing levels were normal during the early stages of diabetes, whereas 30% of their sample (that had chronic diabetes) had hearing loss. This speaks to the importance of managing one’s blood sugar and keeping diabetes under control. 

Screening for hearing impairment in diabetic patients may provide benefits for intervention or prevention of early presbycusis, particularly in middle age and elderly populations. 

How often should you take a hearing test? 

Hearing tests are like dental and optometric appointments: they should be scheduled once a year. While your primary care physician checks all of your vitals at a yearly physical, most do not administer a hearing test. To check, find a local hearing care clinic near your zip code

Finding treatment

You have a higher chance of developing hearing loss if you have a genetic predisposition for it. A lifetime of noise-induced hearing loss from loud jobs can also lead to a degeneration of your sense of hearing. Diabetes, as you’ve learned, is also a serious risk factor.

A visit to a local hearing professional can help diagnose and determine treatment options. Visit our clinic finder to input your zip code and find a hearing care center near you.

Learn more about your hearing aids options here.

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