The circulatory system of the human body is its lifeblood. This is also very true for the human ear. The tiny, intricate inner ear system is actually an energy hog. It punches way above its weight (which is miniscule).
So, any overall issues with blood flow will negatively affect hearing. And that’s why there is — regrettably — a link between diabetes and hearing loss. It’s now clear that the onset of the condition is also a risk factor for both short- and long-term development of hearing issues. In fact, it is currently calculated that diabetes doubles a person’s chances of developing hearing loss.
This is because the delivery of glucose — which is, in effect, how cells fill their gas tanks — is degraded by diabetes. Instead of it being normally transferred to cells, glucose builds up in the bloodstream. Cells become starved for energy, leading to a myriad of problems. One of those difficulties is that the functioning of the ear’s many pieces declines.
And it’s not just a lack of direct energy transference that is the problem. Higher than normal levels of glucose also damage blood vessels over the long-term, meaning the issue the inner ear’s cells being malnourished is supplemented by the fact that the transfer mechanism — the circulatory system — is simultaneously being damaged.
Hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes as it is in people of the same age who don’t. Even people with prediabetes (blood sugar levels higher than normal but not high enough yet to have type 2 diabetes) have a 30% higher rate of hearing loss than people with normal blood sugar levels.
Signs of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss can happen slowly, so it can be hard to notice. Often, friends and family members will notice your hearing loss before you do.
Signs of hearing loss include:
- Often asking others to repeat themselves.
- Trouble following conversations with more than one person.
- Thinking that others are mumbling.
- Problems hearing in noisy places, such as busy restaurants.
- Trouble hearing the voices of small children and others with quiet voices.
- Turning up the TV or radio volume too loud for others who are nearby.
Problems with your inner ear may also affect your balance.
How To Protect Your Ears
You can’t reverse hearing loss, but you can follow these tips to help protect your ears:
- Keep your blood sugar as close to your target levels as possible.
- Get your hearing checked every year.
- Avoid other causes of hearing loss, including loud noises.
- Ask your doctor whether any medicines you’re taking can damage your hearing and what other options are available.
You should have your hearing tested when you first find out you have diabetes and then every year after. Make it part of your diabetes care schedule. If you think you have hearing loss, talk to your doctor. They can help you decide if you should see a hearing specialist.
Hearing loss can be frustrating for you and your family, and it can affect your social life. There are many reasons to keep your blood sugar in your target range—protecting your hearing is just one of them. Plus, you’ll feel better and have more energy while you do it!
This is yet another reason why diabetes should be taken extremely seriously and a physician’s advice on how to manage it followed methodically. A host of extreme problems — organ failure, blindness, amputation — can result from untreated diabetes. Add hearing loss to that sad list.