At first glance, it doesn’t seem that there would be much in common between diabetes – or high blood glucose – and hearing loss. While hearing loss and diabetes are two completely separate diagnoses, they are both extremely common. It is estimated that about 48 million Americans live with some degree of hearing loss, and about 34 million live with diabetes.
Recently, studies have found that there seems to be a significant overlap in these two groups. Indicating a strong correlation between diabetes and hearing loss.
What is diabetes?
This may seem like a very simple question because we hear about diabetes all of the time, but many of us do not have a firm understanding of what diabetes actually is. Diabetes is a disease where a person has too much glucose (or sugar) in their blood. The reason for this buildup of glucose in the blood is due to a lack of a hormone called insulin, which is typically produced naturally by the pancreas. The insulin that is produced by the pancreas is able to help the glucose that you get from food get into your cells to be used as fuel for your body. Without the proper production of insulin, the glucose does not properly reach the cells and instead builds up in the bloodstream. (https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes).
What is hearing loss?
In the vast majority of cases of hearing loss, the deficit is caused by damage to tiny cells within our inner ear. These cells are really delicate and are unable to repair or regenerate themselves once they are damaged. These cells are responsible for taking sound waves that enter into our ears and transmitting them into electrical signals that are sent to our brains for interpretation. When these delicate little hairlike cells are damaged, this process is interrupted and the cells are less able to properly send the correct electronic signals to our brains. There are other types of hearing loss caused by physical damage or birth defects, however, damage to these inner ear cells make up for most of the cases of hearing loss throughout the globe.
How are hearing loss and diabetes connected?
How is an excess buildup of glucose in the blood (causing diabetes) correlated to damage to tiny hairlike cells in our inner ears (causing hearing loss) possibly connected?
Many studies, dating as far back as 1974, show a correlation between hearing loss and diabetes. In 2012, a group of researchers compiled peer reviewed research from all over the world and each of them came to this shocking conclusion. The studies indicated that people with diabetes were twice as likely than their peers without diabetes to have a hearing loss. (https://www.healthline.com/health/type-2-diabetes/hearing-loss#research).
While it is clear that more research is needed to fully explore this connection between diabetes and hearing loss, researchers have uncovered a few theories. Researchers hypothesize that the correlation is related to damaged blood vessels that occur when a person has diabetes – especially if their diabetes is improperly managed.
Damaged blood vessels can cause the decay of the tiny little hairlike cells in your inner ears that are so imperative to proper hearing. Another possible cause for the correlation is nerve damage. Diabetes has the potential to cause nerve damage all over the body, including in the inner ear and throughout the auditory system.
How can I manage this in my own life?
Luckily, many of the lifestyle changes you can make to help reduce your risk for developing diabetes are the same lifestyle changes that could help to reduce your risk of developing hearing loss! To help reduce your risk of developing diabetes and/or hearing loss you can try implementing these small changes into your lifestyle:
- Get regular checkups with your healthcare practitioner (including a hearing assessment)
- Eat a heathy diet that includes a good amount of leafy greens, vegetables, and high-fiber foods. Reduce your intake of saturated and trans fats.
- Get regular exercise. The CDC recommends about 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise to help improve cardiovascular health as well as overall health.
The Hearing Doctor
An annual hearing test is an important part of your overall health and well-being. If you have noticed changes in your hearing abilities, contact us for a hearing test. We provide comprehensive hearing health services and we look forward to helping you!