Check Your Hearing This November for American Diabetes Month

In Health, Hearing Loss, Hearing Loss Causes by Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A

Jennifer G. Mayer, Au.D., CCC-A
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Have you been living with diabetes or have recently been diagnosed? Diabetes is a potentially dangerous condition, affecting approximately 32.4 million people in the US. This number is expected to rise to one in three people by 2050 if current trends continue. It is important to pay attention to diabetes, to avoid potential threats to your quality of life and longevity, such as blindness, loss of limbs, heart disease, and kidney failure. This November is American Diabetes Month, an annual campaign to raise awareness around this devastating condition. This year focuses on prediabetes and prevention. As medical professionals who focus on hearing, we want to draw special attention to the importance of addressing potential hearing issues connected to diabetes.

Is there a relationship between diabetes and hearing loss?

The relationship between diabetes and hearing loss isn’t always the first thing people think of when they are diagnosed, but it is a connection that should be taken more seriously. Several studies have found greater instances of hearing loss in diabetic patients. A Japanese study released in 2013, analyzed 13 separate studies conducted between 1974 to 2011 including 20,194 participants and 7,377 cases, on the connection between diabetes and hearing loss. They concluded that people with diabetes were twice as likely to have hearing loss than people without diabetes. They also found that those with prediabetes were at a 30 percent chance increase of having hearing loss in comparison to those with stable blood sugar levels.

Understanding diabetes 

The most common type of diabetes is type 2, making up nearly 90 percent of all cases. This type of diabetes usually develops over time based on lifestyle choices, such as level of activity and dietary choices. Those who are more active and choose whole foods and vegetables, over processes sugars, generally have lower blood sugar levels. But what are blood sugar levels, and how do they affect your hearing? 

Diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin for the cells to properly absorb and store them. Insulin is a hormone, produced in the pancreas, which aids in the absorption of blood sugar, also known as glucose, into the cells. When the cells cannot absorb glucose properly, due to issues producing sufficient insulin, it can cause cell damage throughout the body, including the ears.

How does diabetes cause hearing loss? 

While medical professionals are still not in concurrence of how diabetes affects the ears, many theorize that the nature of diabetes on the cells could easily damage the important and delicate cell structure which allows us to hear. The ears deliver sound to the auditory cortex in the brain, where it is processed and understood. It achieves this, using tiny hair-like cells, called stereocilia, which convert audio information into electrical pulses which the brain analyzes. Insufficient blood caused by diabetic issues most likely increases the risk of damage to these important cells, responsible for transmitting sounds.

I have diabetes. Do I have a hearing loss?

It is important to shift the common understanding around diabetes to include screenings for hearing loss. Unaddressed hearing loss may not seem like a severe issue at first, but over time it can create communication barriers within personal and professional relationships. This can easily lead to chronic depression, anxiety, and loneliness as well as cognitive decline, paving the way for a greater risk of dementia, later on. The longer hearing loss goes unaddressed, the greater these risks become. It causes many to stay home and be less active which in turn decreases activity levels, which are important to maintaining, in order to keep your blood sugar levels at a safe number. 

Treating Hearing Loss this American Diabetes Month

This November is a great time to address your hearing. If you have already become accustomed to dealing with your diabetes, normalize the idea that addressing hearing loss is part of this. If you have not been diagnosed with diabetes but are 45 years or older, this month is an excellent time to screen for diabetes. Like hearing loss, the sooner you catch it, the more of a chance you have of keeping your glucose levels under control. This November, fight diabetes by screening your blood sugar levels and scheduling a hearing test.