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Diabetes is a condition affecting 34 million Americans, just over 1 in every 10 people. With such a high incidence, it is important to understand warning signs and other conditions that are highly correlated with diabetes. Doctors and researchers refer to these conditions as comorbidities—those factors that tend to be higher among people with diabetes. Some of these might be intuitive, such as obesity and cardiovascular disease, but other comorbidities with diabetes come as a big surprise. One of these surprising comorbidities is hearing loss, but statistics clearly demonstrate that those who have diabetes have higher rates of hearing loss than their counterparts. What might explain this puzzling connection? In order to get to the bottom of the relationship, let’s take a look at the effects of both hearing loss and diabetes, offering some insight into the mechanism connecting them.
What is Diabetes?
Understanding the connection between hearing loss and diabetes requires a basic understanding of both conditions. Diabetes is a condition of blood glucose levels wherein there is too much sugar in the bloodstream. Insulin is a hormone in your bloodstream that helps you get sugars into your cells as a form of energy. Diabetes has to do with two different ways that insulin can be deficient. In Type 1 diabetes, the body does not naturally produce insulin at all. In Type II diabetes, the body does not make or use insulin efficiently, meaning that too much sugar stays in the bloodstream. In the case of both types of diabetes, a surplus of glucose in the bloodstream can lead to a whole host of problems ranging from damage to eyes, kidneys, nerves, and appendages. These links between diabetes and other issues points us to an explanation of the connection with hearing loss.
What is Hearing Loss?
Although hearing loss comes in many different forms, the most common form results from damage to the tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia. These sensitive cells have adapted to respond to vibrations in pressure that occurs when sound travels through the ears. The same sensitivity that makes the stereocilia able to perform their responsive function in the ears also makes them particularly susceptible to damage. One way they can be damaged is through exposure to too much sound for too long an amount of time, called noise-induced hearing loss. However, the stereocilia can also be damaged through a lack of oxygen and nutrients they need to function. This necessity is the best explanation of a connection between diabetes and hearing loss. With too much glucose remaining in the bloodstream rather than being delivered to the cells, the bloodstream does not carry necessary oxygen, nor can it pass along essential glucose to the stereocilia.
Preventing Diabetes and Hearing Loss
Diabetes prevention is a complex web that needs to be balanced under the direction of medical professionals. Although it might seem as simple as improving the insulin balance in the bloodstream, many people with prediabetes can suffer from too much or too little sugar in the system. Specifically when it comes to blood sugar, carefully follow the instructions of your doctor when it comes to diet.
Exercise in moderation is a healthy practice that can help regulate blood sugar, but be sure not to overdo it. Preventing hearing loss is more straightforward. If you are in an environment with high noise levels, be sure to wear hearing protection in the form of earplugs, and try to avoid these situations when possible. Limit the volume and duration of use of headphones and earbuds so that you are not adding leisure sound to the regular noise exposure in the rest of life.
In addition to these preventative strategies, hearing treatment solutions have advanced remarkably in the latest hearing aids. With better noise cancellation, voice recognition, and customization opportunities available, we can point you in the direction of assistance suited to your needs.