If you are living with or have recently been diagnosed with diabetes, there is a likelihood that hearing health has not been foremost on your list of concerns, but medical research keeps finding more reasons why it ought to be.
While hearing loss is not a typical symptom of type 2 diabetes (tingling sensations, blurred vision, extreme fatigue, weight change, frequent urination, and unusual thirst are the prominent ones), researchers continue to study the link between hearing loss and diabetes in an attempt to determine how strongly these two health issues are connected.
So why would there be a connection, if at all? Well, the reason is twofold: statistics indicate that people living with pre-diabetes and diabetes experience a higher rate of hearing loss over time, and since some diabetes symptoms such as tingling sensations in the limbs and blurry vision are related to the body’s central nervous system, it is thought that diabetes affects our senses in a similar manner.
According to the American Diabetes Association, the rate of hearing loss in the 86 million adults in the U.S. who have pre-diabetes is 30% higher than in those with normal blood sugar levels. In addition, studies conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) show that hearing loss is twice as common in adults with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease.
As researchers continue to look for a correlation between hearing loss and diabetes (a debate that been on-going since the 1960s), results show that a relationship does in fact exist even when the major factors known to affect hearing (e.g. noise exposure, age, use of certain medications etc.) are taken into account. With this knowledge that hearing loss is prevalent in those with diabetes, the next step is for researchers to conclusively determine why this happens. So far, explanations have been mostly speculative.
What we really know
Complications arising from diabetes are mainly vascular i.e. they emanate from the body’s blood vessels (vascular system). Blood vessels in our bodies have the important task of pumping blood throughout the body, nourishing its cells, including those that comprise the nervous system.
The most commonly propagated theory behind hearing loss synonymous with diabetics is that the higher-than-usual blood glucose levels cause significant damage to the nerves and small blood vessels throughout the body (including those found in the inner ear) resulting in impaired function. And when there is enough damage occasioned to the cells of the inner ear (whether caused by diabetes or something else), hearing loss results. Granted, this is still just a working theory as research into this issue continues.
Bottom line, if left untreated over extended periods of time, it is believed that diabetes can eventually lead to hearing loss, although this on its own is no real cause (indicator) of diabetes. The earlier such issues are nipped in the bud, the better equipped you will be at managing both your hearing health and diabetes, and consequently slowing down any effects that diabetes may have on your ears.
If you have recently received a positive diabetes diagnosis and are concerned about your hearing, it is advisable to get a hearing test done at the earliest possible opportunity in order to establish a hearing health baseline. This should enable you to monitor any changes to your hearing through annual hearing checkups. Moreover, due to this seemingly strong link between hearing loss and diabetes, diabetics should always be vigilant about guarding their hearing. This means avoiding listening to music at high volume, wearing ear protection when necessary, and wearing hearing aids when prescribed.