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The Connection Between Type 2 Diabetes and Hearing Loss

How common is hearing loss in people with diabetes?

Key points

  1. Hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes than in those who don’t.
  2. High blood sugar can damage blood vessels and nerves throughout the body, including your ears.
  3. Damage to the auditory nerves may lead to hearing loss.

About 30 million people in the United States have diabetes, a disease characterized by high blood sugar levels. Between 90 and 95 percent of people with diabetes have type 2, which can develop at any age.

Management of this disease is crucial. When blood sugar levels aren’t well-controlled, your risk of developing hearing loss may increase.

Read on to learn more about the connection between type 2 diabetes and hearing loss and what you can do about it.

What does the research say?

Research

Studies show that hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes than in those who don’t.

In a 2008 study, researchers analyzed data from hearing tests of adults between the ages of 20 and 69. They concluded that diabetes may contribute to hearing loss by damaging nerves and blood vessels. Similar studies have shown a possible link between hearing loss and nerve damage.

The study’s authors made no distinction between type 1 and type 2, the two main types of diabetes. But almost all participants had type 2. The authors also cautioned that noise exposure and presence of diabetes was self-reported.

In 2013, researchers analyzed studies carried out from 1974 to 2011 on diabetes and hearing loss. They concluded that people with diabetes were twice as likely to have hearing loss than people without diabetes. However, these researchers did note several limitations, such as the data being based on observational studies.

What causes hearing loss in people with type 2 diabetes?

Causes

What causes or contributes to hearing loss in people with diabetes isn’t clear.

It’s known that high blood sugar can damage blood vessels throughout the body, including your ears. If you’ve had diabetes for a long time and it isn’t well-controlled, there could be damage to the vast network of small blood vessels in your ears.

Research suggests that women with diabetes may experience greater hearing loss than those without the disease. This also applies to women with well-controlled diabetes.

Another complication of diabetes is nerve damage. It’s possible that damage to the auditory nerves could lead to hearing loss.

More research is needed to fully understand the link between diabetes and hearing loss.

What are the risk factors for hearing loss?

Risk Factors

The risk factors for hearing loss in people with type 2 diabetes are also unclear.

You may be more likely to have hearing loss if you’re having a hard time managing blood sugar levels. That’s why it’s so important to follow your diabetes treatment plan, monitor your condition, and see your doctor regularly.

If you do have both diabetes and hearing loss, it doesn’t necessarily mean that one has anything to do with the other. There are a variety of other reasons you may be losing your hearing. These include:

  • exposure to a loud noise such as an explosion
  • long-term exposure to noise such as loud music
  • aging
  • family history of hearing loss
  • earwax or foreign object in the ear
  • virus or fever
  • structural problem in the ear
  • perforated eardrum
  • certain medications, such as chemotherapy drugs

Learn more: Age-related hearing loss »

How is hearing loss diagnosed?

Diagnosis

Hearing loss can be so gradual that you may not notice it. Children and adults can experience hearing loss at any time.

Ask yourself the following questions if you think you might be losing your hearing:

  • Has anyone complained that you’re not listening?
  • Do you often 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 TV or radio too loudly?
  • Do you have trouble understanding conversations in crowded rooms?

If you answered yes to more than one of these questions, you should have your hearing tested to assess it and prevent further damage.

Doctors will start with a physical examination of your ears to see if there’s an obvious blockage, fluid, or infection.

A tuning fork test can help your doctor detect hearing loss. It can also help determine if the problem is with nerves in the middle ear or inner ear. Depending on the results, you may be referred to an ear, nose, and throat specialist or audiologist.

Another diagnostic tool is the audiometer test. During this test, you’ll put on a set of earphones. Sounds in different ranges and levels will be sent to one ear at a time. You’ll be asked to indicate when you hear a tone.

How is hearing loss treated?

Treatment

Hearing aids are the most common treatment option for hearing loss, and you’ll find many on the market to choose from. Your doctor can help you select the best option for your lifestyle needs.

Other treatments for hearing loss depend on the cause and may include:

  • medication, such as antibiotics for acute infection
  • removal of earwax or other blockage
  • cochlear implants, depending on the status of the nerves in your ear

Surgery may be necessary if your hearing loss is due to:

  • a birth defect
  • head trauma
  • chronic middle ear fluid
  • chronic ear infections
  • tumors

If you’re prescribed new medications, be sure to ask about potential drug interactions.

Although it’s unclear if there’s a link between diabetes and hearing loss, it’s a good idea to share information between your doctors. That way, they’ll each have a better picture of your overall health.

What is the outlook?

Outlook

Certain forms of hearing loss are temporary. Early treatment may be a key factor in recovery. For at least some forms of hearing loss, people with diabetes or high blood pressure have a lower rate of recovery.

Your outlook depends on the cause of your hearing loss and treatment. Once you have a diagnosis and your doctor can evaluate your overall health, they should be able to give you a better idea of what to expect.

How can hearing loss be prevented?

Prevention

If you have diabetes, you should have your hearing checked each year.

The best way to avoid hearing loss and other complications is to:

Keep reading: What you need to know about diabetes and blurry vision »

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