Many people are surprised to learn there is a strong connection between hearing loss and diabetes. In fact, people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience impaired hearing compared with people without diabetes, and people with prediabetes (where blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not high enough to be an official diagnosis of diabetes) have a 30 per cent increased risk of hearing loss compared to people without the condition.
If you or someone you know has diabetes or prediabetes, read on to better understand the link between diabetes and sudden hearing loss – and how to reduce risk.
Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that occurs when blood glucose levels are too high. Glucose comes from the foods we eat, and its levels in the blood are regulated by the hormone insulin, which is produced by the pancreas. Diabetes occurs when there are problems with insulin production, its action in the body, or both, leading to elevated blood glucose levels.
There are several types of diabetes, with the most common being type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, causing the pancreas to stop producing insulin. People with type 1 diabetes require lifelong insulin therapy to manage their blood sugar levels. It usually develops in childhood or during adolescence and is not caused by lifestyle factors.
In type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, lifestyle factors like diet, physical activity, and genetics play a significant role in its development. Type 2 diabetes is also more common than type 1, and develops when the body stops responding to insulin as it should. As the body stops responding effectively to the hormone, the pancreas gradually becomes unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check.
Uncontrolled diabetes can lead to hearing loss and other serious health complications, including kidney problems, vision issues, heart disease and nerve damage.
While symptoms of type 1 diabetes can appear quite quickly, many people with type 2 diabetes don’t experience any symptoms, meaning they may go undiagnosed for a long time. However, there are some signs to look out for that indicate hyperglycaemia (elevated blood sugar levels):
There are also symptoms specific to each type of diabetes:
People with diabetes are twice as likely to develop hearing loss, and even those with prediabetes are 30 per cent more likely to develop impaired hearing than those with normal blood sugar levels.
While experts aren’t sure how hearing loss and diabetes are interconnected, the link may have something to do with the nerve damage that diabetes can cause.
Elevated blood sugar levels over a long period of time can lead to nerve damage in any part of the body, from the hands and feet to internal organs – and this, of course, includes your ears. Having high blood sugar levels over a prolonged period may damage the small blood vessels and nerves – known as ‘hair cells’ – in the inner ear that carry information about the sounds we hear to the brain, thus damaging hearing.
There is a clear link between both type 2 and type 1 diabetes and hearing loss, and while hearing loss can’t be reversed, you can reduce your risk with proper management of the condition.
Keeping your blood sugar levels as close to your target (as determined by your doctor) as possible is critical to managing diabetes and preventing related hearing loss.
Type 2 diabetes is more common than type 1. It can often be managed through lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy diet and getting regular exercise, losing weight, quitting smoking and reducing alcohol intake. However, some people require medication or insulin to help keep blood glucose levels in check, too. When it comes to hearing loss and type 2 diabetes, getting your hearing checked yearly can help you keep on top of any changes in your ears.
Type 1 diabetes is, unfortunately, unpreventable and is managed with insulin replacement, which helps regulate your body’s blood sugar levels. While lifestyle factors don’t play a role in the development of the condition, adopting a healthy diet and staying physically active can still help lower the risk of complications such as hearing loss. Again, regular check-ups with an audiologist are key in monitoring and protecting your auditory health when it comes to type 1 diabetes and hearing loss.
There are also plenty of other ways we can all safeguard our hearing on a day-to-day basis, such as:
Although experts aren’t exactly sure of the relationship between hearing loss and diabetes, research shows a definite connection, likely due to the nerve damage that can occur due to prolonged high blood sugar levels. Whether you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, it’s essential that you formulate a management plan with your doctor and attend regular hearing checks to maintain the health of your hearing. If you have noticed any changes in your hearing, book in for a visit to your local Bay Audiology clinic.