A Link Between Hearing Loss & Diabetes

In Hearing Loss by Nikki DeGeorge Weaver, Au.D.

Nikki DeGeorge Weaver, Au.D.

Have you recently been diagnosed with diabetes? If so, you probably have a lot of questions. For instance, how do you manage this condition and what else will it affect? Most people understand that complications with diabetes can further heart and kidney issues, but did you know that hearing loss could also affect your hearing and balance?

Understanding Diabetes

Diabetes is a chronic health condition that affects how your body turns food into energy. There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2: 


Type 1 Diabetes: Type 1 is a rare autoimmune disease most commonly affecting adolescents, in which the body cannot absorb blood sugar energy into the cells of the body. 


Type 2 Diabetes: Type 2 diabetes is far more common. More than 37 million US citizens have diabetes (about 1 in 10), and approximately 90-95% of them have type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body can not properly absorb blood sugar (glucose) from food to use throughout the body. This creates too much glucose in the bloodstream, eventually leading to devastating health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye issues, dementia, amputations of extremities such as feet and hearing impairments.


Understanding the Hearing System

To understand how diabetes affects hearing it is first important to understand how we hear. Most people don’t imagine how we hear past the point that sound enters our inner ear. As sound travels in our ear it is sent to the middle ear where it vibrates the eardrum which then transfers to the smallest bones in the entire body, called the ossicles. These vibrations then travel farther to a very small snail-shaped organ called the cochlea. Inside the cochlea are tiny hairlike cells called stereocilia, which are emersed in fluid. As the vibrations from the middle ear vibrate the fluid, the stereocilia are moved. This communicates to our brain the level of our head which contributes to balance. The stereocilia also transform sounds from vibrations to electrical signals which are sent to our brain. The auditory cortex of our brain is where speech is translated, and sounds are identified.

Connecting Hearing Loss and Diabetes

The stereocilia are incredibly fragile and rely on a steady supply of oxygenated blood to maintain longevity. The CDC reports that high blood glucose levels from untreated diabetes can weaken the ear’s blood vessels as well as the stereocilia of the inner ear. When this occurs some degree of sound perception is lost. This often manifests first as the loss of certain tones, pitches, or consonants. As diabetes and hearing loss worsen it can make it hard to follow conversations and identify sounds in the world around us.


Managing Diabetes 

The key to controlling diabetes is staying aware and on top of it. It is important to control your blood sugar levels through diet a healthy diet rich in vegetables, whole grains fruits, and lean meats while avoiding processed foods and sugars. In combination with regular cardiovascular exercise can not only keep your blood sugar under control but improve your mood, support your heart health, and help to protect your hearing. It is recommended to screen regularly for diabetes. About 1 in 3 people in the US or about 96 million American adults have prediabetes which is when your blood sugar is high but not in the range considered diabetes. If you fall in the range of prediabetes taking action now by changing lifestyle and diet can make a huge difference for your overall health and hearing.

Part of Diabetes Needs to be Addressing Hearing Loss

Our total health is connected. Hearing loss and diabetes are two of the US’ biggest health concerns. Treating one can help the other. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) reports that people with type 2 diabetes are over 50% more likely to suffer mild to moderate high-frequency hearing loss, than those without the disease. This was confirmed based on a meta-analysis published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in which researchers analyzed results from 13 studies involving more than 20,000 participants.  

Researchers concluded that for people who are diagnosed with diabetes, it is important to treat hearing loss as a probable side effect. It’s a good idea to have your hearing checked regularly if you are living with diabetes. Schedule a hearing exam today!