Diabetes and Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know
Diabetes is a complicated condition. Management is difficult and never takes a break. It involves considering, managing, and accounting for a plethora of things that would surprise anyone who doesn’t have it. For instance, if you don’t have diabetes, you might be surprised to learn that stress can affect your blood glucose levels, and that affects nearly 85% of diabetics. If you have diabetes, you might be one of the 50% of individuals that will develop gastroparesis in their lifetime, and if you don’t, there’s a good chance you’ve never even heard of gastroparesis.
Diabetes is complicated because it requires a lot of effort to manage, and many facets of management are difficult and confusing. And choosing not to stick to your management plan? Well, that’s not really an option because diabetes also comes with some pretty serious potential complications, such as diabetic retinopathy (damage to the retina), nephropathy (kidney disease or damage), and neuropathy (nerve damage).
Then there are the lesser-known complications, like hearing loss. While maybe not as well known or as common as other potential complications, people with diabetes are actually twice as likely to suffer hearing loss as people who don’t. And while that statistic might sound scary, we’re hear (get it?) to help! Because we believe that the best way to prevent complications from diabetes is to understand what causes them, to know how to spot the signs, and to know what you can do to prevent them!
Diabetes and Hearing Loss
Hearing loss isn’t a problem unique to people with diabetes. In fact, an estimated 16% of adults in the United States report hearing loss, and that number appears to be rising. However, because people with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss as people who don’t have the condition, there does appear to be a strong correlation between the two. And while more research is necessary to fully understand the connection, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that hearing loss is more common amongst individuals with diabetes due to nerve damage (specifically, auditory nerves) and blood vessel damage caused by uncontrolled blood glucose levels.
Diabetes-related complications are, of course, not the only risk factor for hearing loss. Additional risk factors include:
- Prolonged exposure to loud noise
- Poor overall health
- Family history
- Build up of earwax or fluid
- Certain medications
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Coronary artery disease
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol
Signs of Hearing Loss
- Frequently being asked to repeat yourself
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves
- Words sound unclear or as though people are mumbling
- Difficulty hearing on the phone
- Frequently being accused of not listening
- Others note the volume of your television or music
- Difficulty understanding conversations in a crowd
Diagnosing Hearing Loss
If you’re noticing signs that you may be suffering hearing loss, it’s important that you talk to your doctor right away. Diagnosing a decline in auditory function is the first step in preventing further damage. Your doctor will likely employ a variety of diagnostic tests to determine if there is a problem. If there is, he or she will try to isolate the issue and establish the source. A physical exam will be performed to rule out infection, blockage, or fluid build up. Additionally, they may employ a tuning fork test to determine the location of the problem, and possibly an audiometer test, which will help indicate whether or not you can hear certain tones. Your physician may also refer you to an ear, nose, and throat specialist.
Treating Hearing Loss
The diagnosis of your hearing loss will help determine your treatment. The most common option is a hearing aid. If this is recommended, your physician will help you choose a device that complements your lifestyle. Treatment may also include:
- Medication for infection
- Cochlear implants
- Removal of build up or blockage
Preventing Hearing Loss
There are things you can do to mitigate risk of hearing loss in your future:
- Have your hearing checked yearly
- If you smoke, quit
- Control your weight
- Stick to your diabetes management plan, including taking the proper dosage of all medications, consistently
- Eat healthy and exercise
- Limit exposure to loud noise
- Wear ear protection when you’re going to be exposed to loud noise
- Look into low-noise products