After years of trying and failing to find a distinct relationship between type 2 diabetes and hearing loss, recent studies have confirmed that relationship. In 2008, the National Institute of Health (NIH) found that hearing loss is twice as common in people who are diabetic.
In fact, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), nearly 35 million people in the United States have some form of hearing loss; many of them either diabetic or pre-diabetic (a condition where blood glucose is high, but not enough to warrant a diabetes diagnosis). The ADA continues, “of the 79 million adults thought to have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than in those with normal blood sugar.”
In the pivotal 2008 NIH study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, researchers analyzed data from hearing tests of working-age adults between the ages of 20 and 69. They concluded that diabetes leads to hearing loss by damaging nerves and blood vessels—information confirmed by autopsy studies. Similar studies confirmed that hearing loss is due to neuropathy (nerve damage), and that diabetics who suffer hearing loss are also at greater risk for other complications from the disease, such as hypertension, retinopathy, neuropathy in other parts of the body, and kidney disease.
Causes of Hearing Loss With Diabetes
In type 2 diabetics, hearing loss is caused by neuropathy. The tiny blood vessels and nerves that are a part of the inner ear fail to get enough blood or oxygen due to long-term hypergylcemia, and they become damaged. Over time, that damage leads to noticeable hearing loss. This type of hearing loss is called sensorineural.
Symptoms of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can be so gradual that you may not notice it. Children and adults can experience hearing loss at any time. Don’t think that you’re too young to be losing your hearing. Ask yourself the following questions if you think you might be at risk for hearing loss:
- Have your friends or family members complained that you’re not listening?
- Do you frequently ask people to repeat themselves?
- Do you complain that people are always mumbling?
- Do you have problems following conversations with more than two people?
- Have people complained that you listen to the television or radio too loudly?
- Do you have trouble understanding conversations in crowded rooms or loud or busy restaurants?
If you answered yes to more than one of those questions, you should have your hearing tested immediately to assess the existing loss and prevent further damage, especially if you’re diabetic.
Preventing and Treating Diabetes-Related Hearing Loss
All diabetics should have their hearing checked each year. The only way to prevent or reduce the risks of developing a significant hearing loss as a complication of type 2 diabetes is by closely monitoring your blood glucose levels, reducing hypertension, keeping off excess weight, and taking daily exercise. Also, know that the long-term use of earphones set on the loudest volume can contribute greatly to hearing loss, especially if you’re already at risk.