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The connection between Diabetes and Hearing Loss

by | 13 Jul 2021 | Hearing, News

Diabetes and hearing loss are two of Australia’s most common health concerns. According to Diabetes Australia around 1.8 million Australians have diabetes. This includes all types of diagnosed diabetes (1.2 million known and registered). It also includes silent, undiagnosed type 2 diabetes (up to 500,000 estimated). If you have diabetes there is a risk that you may develop hearing loss. This is due to the increase in blood sugar levels that damage the inner ear. If you or a loved one have diabetes, it is vital for you to monitor your hearing health closely.

How common is hearing loss in diabetics?

Hearing loss is, twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who do not have the disease. A US study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), tested more than 4,700 adults on their ability to hear a range of frequencies in both ears. Results showed a strong correlation between diabetes and hearing loss across all sound frequencies, especially in the high frequency range. An additional study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2012 supported NIH’s previous findings. Lastly the study concluded that diabetics were more likely to have hearing loss, regardless of their age.

“Hearing loss may be an under-recognized complication of diabetes. As diabetes becomes more common, the disease may become a more significant contributor to hearing loss,” said senior author Catherine Cowie.

How does diabetes cause hearing loss?

Researchers believe prolonged high blood glucose levels may lead to hearing loss by affecting the supply of blood or oxygen to the tiny nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear. Over time, the nerves and blood vessels become damaged, affecting the person’s ability to hear.

Whilst other parts of your body can accommodate for damaged blood vessels, by depending on alternative blood supplies, your ear doesn’t have that option. The hair cells of the inner ear rely on good blood circulation to maintain your hearing health. Consequently, these hair cells are very fragile and susceptible to chemical changes in the body. Furthermore, damage to these cells is irreversible.

Furthermore diabetes can also cause damage to the nerves in the ears. Because these nerves may experience fibre loss and degeneration. This is the same kind of damage that causes symptoms such as tingling and numbness in extremities, like fingertips. Damage to these structures diminishes the ability to hear.

What are the signs of hearing loss?

Hearing health is usually something we do not prioritize and hearing loss happens gradually over time. It can creep up on us slowly and it is often an ‘invisible’ condition. Subsequently friends and family may notice first before you do!

Signs of hearing loss:

  • friends and family say your television is too loud
  • you struggle to hear in noisy environments
  • you are often saying ‘pardon?’ in conversations
  • hissing or buzzing sounds in your ears
  • telephone conversations are difficult to understand

Being aware of these early signs of hearing loss is important for identifying problems quickly and at an early stage where treatment can be a lot more effective.

What are the implications of hearing loss?

It is important that those living with diabetes understand the risks and long-term implications of hearing loss. The physical and psychological effects of hearing loss are well established and can be debilitating. Furthermore, if left undetected, hearing loss in adults can lead to significant health, social and economic problems, including falls, cognitive decline and social isolation.

How often should you have your hearing tested?

It is recommended that everyone with diabetes should have their hearing checked on an annual basis. Hearing assessments should be an essential component in the medical care plan for patients with pre-diabetic markers or those with newly, or previously diagnosed diabetes. A baseline hearing assessment is recommended followed by annual review to monitor your hearing

Diabetes is also associated with an increased risk of developing a sudden hearing loss. This sudden onset hearing loss can affect anyone with diabetes. It isn’t restricted to people of a certain age group or those living in noisy environments. So, if you have diabetes it is important to have regular hearing checks. Early intervention is the key to managing hearing loss as it results in more effective ongoing management. 

If you would like to schedule a comprehensive hearing assessment, give us a call today.

Talk to your GP today

People with diabetes should talk to their doctors about their concerns. Moreover they should also remain diligent about following through with regular hearing checks. 

Your doctor plays a critical role in recognising the mental health risks of hearing loss in patients living with diabetes. Which in turn helps prevent the onset of withdrawal, isolation, and depression. Talk to your GP about any concerns you have about your hearing. It is also important that you keep up with your annual hearing checks for early diagnosis of any hearing issues. For diabetes patients on an Enhanced Primary Care Plan, there is a Medicare rebate to help cover the cost of a comprehensive hearing assessment. Fully subsidised hearing services are also available to eligible pensioners and veterans. Conditions apply under the Australian Government Hearing Services Program.

If you have diabetes, it is vital that you keep on top of your medication and treatment plans. It is also important to follow a healthy lifestyle, by exercising and eating the correct foods. In conclusion many of us go to the gym to keep fit and healthy – so why neglect your ears? In short part of supporting your overall health also involves caring for your ears.

References:

https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/hearing-loss#causes

https://www.diabetesqld.org.au/news/diabetes-and-hearing-loss/

https://www.diabetesaustralia.com.au/about-diabetes/

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