Diabetes isn't the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the major causes of hearing loss. Excessive exposure to loud noises, aging, as well as certain diseases like otosclerosis and Meniere's disease are obvious contenders. But, diabetes (and to some point, obesity)? It seems like these two conditions don't really correlate to one another.
But research shows otherwise. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), people who suffer from diabetes are twice at risk for hearing loss compared to non-diabetics. This is an alarming figure, considering the fact that almost 10 percent of the population of the United States have diabetes.
The Hidden Connection Between Hearing Loss and Diabetes
According to a press release by Dr. Catherine Cowie of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the study by the NIH have discovered a strong consistent correlation between diabetes and hearing loss. The link might have only become apparent now, as the number of people who suffer from the condition increase year by year (estimates have shown that diabetes rates have doubled in the past 20 years). It's slowly starting to become a major contributor to hearing loss as diabetes becomes more widespread and common among the general population.
The study's major findings include:
- In a sample size of 399 adults suffering from diabetes, 21 percent have mild or greater hearing loss of sounds in the low to mid frequency range, while 54 percent have hearing loss in the high frequency range. In comparison, the figure stands at only nine percent and 32 percent respectively for 4,741 adults without diabetes.
- Pre-diabetics have increased risk for hearing loss as well. Compared to people with blood sugar levels in the normal range, pre-diabetics are 30 percent more at risk for having hearing impairments.
The exact reasons for this phenomenon are not exactly clear at the moment. However, some scientists and experts believe that elevated blood sugar levels can potentially damage the sensitive blood vessels and nerves in the ears the same way it causes damage to the eyes and kidneys of diabetic patients, thus causing hearing loss.
Moreover, research published by the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology further reinforced the NIH findings. These were experiments that have been conducted throughout the US, Brazil, Australia, and some parts of Asia, with about 20,000 test subjects.
For example, having too much glucose in the body puts extra pressure on the kidneys (which has blood vessels that act as "filters" that strain waste). As the kidneys become overworked, these vessels can eventually break down over time. The same goes true for the eyes; in diabetic retinopathy, the vessels can get damaged and leak fluid, thereby causing swelling. Advanced retinopathy may eventually lead to blindness too.
Why is knowing the link between hearing loss and diabetes important?
It's because these two conditions are among the most common health concerns in the country. Currently there are 34.5 million people in the United States that are suffering from some degree of hearing loss, while 30 million are diabetic. Knowing the kind of risks that are involved when you are suffering from these conditions makes cure and prevention so much easier. If you are diabetic and are familiar with the usual signs and symptoms of hearing impairment, you can halt or slow down hearing loss before it can negatively impact your life. Routine hearing check-ups are especially useful too.
What to Do
It's important to note that, though its rates might be increasing every year, Type 2 diabetes (which is the most common form of diabetes that adults in the US have) can be easily prevented through lifestyle changes. All it takes to lower your risk for this disease, as well as your risk for hearing loss, is to exercise and eat a proper diet. No medicine, no special treatment plan shall be involved in these first steps.
It's also important to have your hearing checked at least once a year by a hearing professional or audiologist. Proactive action is better than cure, and in most cases, the development of hearing loss can be easily prevented and even stopped in its tracks.
Diabetes is serious, but it can also be managed. Enlist your doctor's help and know what you need to do for you to be treated.