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Diabetes and Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know

If you've been recently diagnosed with diabetes, hearing health may not be at the top of your mind. But it probably should be!

If you’re living with type 2 diabetes your hearing health may not be a big concern, However, researchers are finding there is a link to these two common health conditions. People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss than an adult without diabetes. Even prediabetes, a condition where blood sugar levels are elevated but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis, is linked with a 30% increase in hearing loss compared to adults with normal blood sugar levels.

What is the connection between diabetes and hearing loss?

Some documented symptoms of diabetes, such as blurry vision and tingling sensations in the limbs, are related to the body’s nervous system, and it is theorized that diabetes affects our other senses in much the same way.

"The link between diabetes and hearing loss has been debated since the 1960s or before,” says Kathleen Bainbridge, Ph.D., of Social & Scientific Systems, in a statement released by the NIH . “Our results show that a relationship exists even when we account for the major factors known to affect hearing, such as age, race, ethnicity, income level, noise exposure, and the use of certain medications."

Diabetic complications are mainly vascular, meaning they originate in the body’s vascular system (blood vessels). The blood vessels in the human body have the important job of pumping blood throughout the body, essentially feeding its cells, including all of the cells that make up the nervous system.

The most common theory behind diabetic-related hearing loss is that the higher-than-normal blood glucose levels associated with diabetes cause enough damage to the small blood vessels and nerves throughout the body, including those in the inner ear, to impair their function. And when enough damage occurs to the cells of the inner ear, whether the cause is diabetes or something else, sensorineural hearing loss results. This theory linking diabetes and hearing loss is still just a working theory, and research is ongoing.

The risk of leaving hearing loss caused by diabetes untreated

If left untreated over an extended period of time, it is thought that diabetes can eventually lead to hearing loss, though hearing loss alone is not an indicator (or cause) of diabetes If you have concerns about either health condition, make sure you schedule regular physical exams with your general practitioner.

What you can do about hearing loss if you have diabetes

Due to the link between diabetes and hearing loss, it is recommended that people with diabetes be extra vigilant about protecting their hearing. This means wearing ear protection when necessary and avoiding listening to personal music devices at high volumes.

In addition, if you've recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and are concerned about the quality of your hearing, we recommend getting a hearing test done so you can establish a baseline for your hearing health. You'll then be able to monitor any changes in your hearing through annual hearing health checkups.

Fortunately, Beltone's hearing care professionals are well aware of the effects diabetes can have on your hearing and can recommend ways to help you. For example, if some hearing loss has already occurred, there are many hearing aids and devices available to help you manage your hearing loss and get on with dealing with the more immediate health concerns caused by diabetes.

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