July 13, 2023

Diabetes and Hearing Loss: How Are They Connected?

There is a correlation between diabetes and hearing loss, read on to get the answers you’re looking for from the experts at US MED.


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Home / Living with Diabetes / Diabetes and Hearing Loss: How Are They Connected?

When you’re living with diabetes, knowledge of the complications associated with this disease is essential. Most people with diabetes understand that uncontrolled diabetes can lead to everything from high blood pressure to kidney, foot, and eye problems. Still, you might not be aware that diabetes comes with a heightened risk of hearing loss.

If you were previously unfamiliar with the diabetes and hearing loss connection, there’s a good chance you have some questions. Whether you’re wondering “how are diabetes and hearing loss related?” or “can diabetes cause hearing loss?,” read on to get the answers you’re looking for from the experts at US MED.

The connection between diabetes and hearing loss

If you have diabetes, there are several potential complications you should know about – and hearing loss is one of them. Compared to other people in the same age group, diabetes patients are twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss.

 

Diabetes-related hearing problems can even affect people who have prediabetes (a condition involving blood sugar levels that are higher than average but not high enough to indicate type 2 diabetes). People dealing with this condition have a hearing loss rate 30 percent higher than that of the average population.

Can diabetes cause hearing loss?

While there’s definitely a correlation between diabetes and hearing loss, it’s still difficult to say how (or even if) the former condition can cause the latter. But there are a few leading theories, which you’ll have a chance to read about in a bit. 

The biggest takeaway here is simple: diabetes is absolutely a risk factor for hearing loss. That means you should know what to do if you find yourself dealing with hearing loss and diabetes.

Signs of hearing loss

A major challenge in diagnosing hearing loss is the fact that it can develop gradually over an extended period. As a result, you may not notice the symptoms associated with this condition if you aren’t actively looking for them.

If you suspect you may have diabetes hearing loss, keep an eye (or ear) out for these signs:

  • Turning up the TV or radio louder than normal
  • Having trouble hearing quiet voices (including children’s voices)
  • Noticing hearing issues in busy public spaces and other noisy environments
  • Assuming other people are mumbling
  • Having difficulty following conversations involving multiple people
  • Asking people to repeat themselves regularly

Causes of hearing loss in people with diabetes

While the exact cause of hearing loss in people with diabetes is still unknown, scientific research on this topic points to a few possibilities. First, the high blood sugar levels commonly seen in people with diabetes could damage small blood vessels in the inner ear. This is similar to how diabetes can affect body parts like your kidneys and eyes. 

High blood glucose could also contribute to the link between hearing loss and diabetes in another way. If your blood sugar is too high, it could impact how nerve signals from your brain reach your inner ear. That, too, could eventually lead to hearing loss.

What should I do if I suspect hearing loss?

Have you noticed the symptoms of diabetes hearing loss in your everyday life? If so, it’s a good idea to schedule a hearing exam. During this exam, you may be asked to complete hearing tests like:

  • Pure tone testing. In this test, you’ll wear headphones and listen to a sequence of beeping sounds. By letting the doctor know when you hear a beep, they’ll determine the quietest sounds you can hear.
  • Middle ear tests. The doctor will use a probe to inspect your eardrum as part of this test. That way, they can observe the eardrum’s movement, check for tears, and determine whether or not any fluid has built up behind the eardrum.
  • Otoacoustic emissions, or “OAE.” While OAE tests also involve a probe, they differ from middle ear tests. In an OAE test, the probe will measure how the hair cells in your inner ear vibrate when exposed to sound.
  • Speech testing. During a speech test, the doctor will speak to you through headphones, and you’ll repeat what you hear. This is similar to pure tone testing but focuses on your ability to hear spoken words.
  • Auditory brainstem response, or “ABR.” In an ABR test, the doctor will place electrodes on your head to measure brainwave activity. By observing this activity as you listen to sounds through headphones, they can analyze the connection between your brain and inner ear.

If your tests indicate the presence of hearing loss, you’ll need to explore your treatment options. The most common type of hearing loss seen in people with diabetes is sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). Treatment methods often used for SNHL include:

  • Hearing aids. Digital hearing aids fit in your ear and amplify the sounds coming into the ear.
  • Cochlear implants. These hearing devices are implanted underneath the skin in your inner ear.
  • Auditory brainstem implants. If your hearing loss is severe and your hearing nerve has trouble functioning, you may need a brainstem implant.
  • Sign language/lip reading. Lip reading and sign language won’t improve your hearing. However, they can help you communicate with other people if you have severe hearing loss.

Risk factors for hearing loss

Of course, diabetes isn’t the only hearing loss risk factor out there. Other factors that can contribute to hearing loss include:

  • Exposure to loud noise for prolonged or frequent periods
  • Other medical conditions (such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, meningitis, measles, and mumps)
  • Ear trauma from head injuries
  • The aging process
  • Genetics
  • Certain medications (including diuretics, antibiotics, and anti-inflammatory drugs)
  • Chemicals that can damage the ears

Hearing loss prevention

Unfortunately, hearing loss is an irreversible condition. Still, that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to protect your ears. With the connection between diabetes and hearing loss in mind, you should take your hearing seriously by:

  • Getting your hearing checked regularly. Ideally, people with diabetes should have an audiologist test their hearing right after they receive a diabetes diagnosis. From there, they should get hearing tests on an annual basis.
  • Controlling your blood sugar. High blood glucose is believed to contribute to diabetes-related hearing loss. By following a diabetes diet, exercising regularly, and keeping a watchful eye on your blood glucose level, you can lower your blood sugar and reduce your likelihood of developing this complication.
  • Paying attention to the medicines you take. Some medications can play a role in hearing loss. Ask your doctor if this is the case for any of your prescriptions and if there are alternatives you could switch to.
  • Avoiding other hearing loss factors. While you can’t cure your diabetes, you can limit your exposure to loud noises and other potential causes of hearing loss.

How US MED can help you manage diabetes

Living with diabetes is stressful enough on its own, and the threat posed by the diabetes and hearing loss connection can add even more anxiety to your life. But taking a few common-sense steps can significantly lower your risk of diabetes-related hearing loss. And if you do find yourself dealing with hearing loss, you’ll have your pick of highly effective treatment options.

While US MED can’t directly assist in your efforts to avoid hearing loss, we can help you make blood sugar management easier than ever. By ordering CGMs, insulin pumps, and diabetes testing supplies from us, you’ll get exceptional products at fair prices – and the support of our 100-percent satisfaction guarantee. Explore our complete diabetes supply selection today!

Shirley DeLeon Certified Diabetes Care & Education Specialist

Medical Review by Shirley DeLeon, Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist

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