Hearing Loss and Diabetes: What does the research say?
There are many questions about the prevalence of hearing loss in those with diabetes. Does diabetes cause hearing loss? How can diabetes impact my hearing? Can I treat my hearing loss if caused by diabetes?
In this article, we’ll look at the current research to give you the facts as they stand about the impact of diabetes on your hearing.
Does diabetes cause hearing loss?
The short answer is we don’t know. What we do know is that studies show that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as those without diabetes.
In 2013 researchers in Japan looked at 13 eligible studies from 1950 to 2011 of hearing loss with over 20,000 participants.
They found that hearing impairment for those with diabetes was 2.15 times higher than for those without.
Additionally, even those people with pre-diabetes (e.g. elevated blood sugars but not yet at the level of Type 2 Diabetes) show a 30% increase in the prevalence of hearing loss over those with normal blood sugar levels.
In another study of over 25,000 newly diagnosed diabetic patients and 25,000 subjects without diabetes, results showed a 1.5 times incidence of sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL) in people with diabetes.
The incidence of SSHL in patients with diabetes doubled for those patients who required triple antidiabetic medication versus those who only needed single medication. The conclusion drawn by the proponents of this study was that the risk of developing SSHL increased with the severity of diabetes.
Interestingly, another study found that the association between diabetes and hearing loss was specific to gender. Researchers at Hanyang University College of Medicine and Hallym University College of Medicine in Korea found that hearing loss linked to diabetes was primarily prevalent in women. They concluded that diabetes is only associated with hearing loss in women.
Even this quick meander through current research shows that much more research needs to be done to understand the impact of diabetes on hearing loss fully.
Prevalence vs causation for diabetes and hearing loss
As with all research, we must be careful we don’t jump to conclusions based on the above findings.
A prevalence of hearing loss for people with diabetes double that of the rest of the population does indeed show a high correlation — but the question here is about causation, and that’s a link no one has been able to establish definitively.
No research has yet to pinpoint or establish how or why people with diabetes may have a higher prevalence of hearing loss.
What are the theories as to why diabetes can cause hearing loss?
So how could diabetes potentially be impacting your hearing?
We know that the high sugar levels of diabetes can damage nerves and small blood vessels.
Diabetes can cause nerve damage affecting many parts of the body, including the hands, feet, eyes and kidneys.
As the hearing system relies on these tiny blood vessels and nerve endings to operate correctly, it’s not a long bow to draw to assume that diabetes can also damage our hearing.
Again, while no definitive research has been done to show the link between diabetes and hearing loss, it is generally accepted that, for those with elevated blood sugar levels, a program to control those levels is vital regarding hearing health. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) even links blood sugar management to hearing loss, balance, and risk of falls.
The impacts of hearing loss related to diabetes
Hearing loss associated with diabetes can be sudden.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes (or even pre-diabetes), you must have your hearing tested annually.
Most importantly, have your hearing tested the moment you notice a change in your ability to hear or you notice something different in your hearing. The sooner hearing loss is detected, the more effective treatment, such as hearing aids and other management options, will be.
You must also understand the risks and long-term implications of hearing loss.
Untreated hearing loss can lead to significant impacts on your life. Your health can be impacted, including falls and cognitive decline. You may also experience social isolation, a reduced capacity to work or study, and experience economic problems.
Read More: Does hearing loss cause dementia?
I have hearing loss. What should I do?
The first step is to talk to your GP about your suspicions of hearing loss. They will help identify likely causes or other issues you need to be aware of but also refer you to an audiologist or an ENT if required. Remember though, you do not need a referral to go directly to an audiologist.
If you do see an audiologist, they will conduct a hearing test and diagnose the extent of your hearing loss. They will then recommend options to help treat and manage that hearing loss.
Professor Hirohito Sone, from Niigata University School of Medicine, Japan, and co-author of one of the studies referenced above, stated: “Our findings support routine hearing screenings for people with diabetes starting at an earlier age than for people without the disease. From a preventive healthcare perspective, this is very important because we know that when left untreated, hearing loss can exacerbate and perhaps even lead to other health problems, such as depression and dementia, making the diabetes burden even greater.”
We can’t yet reverse hearing loss, but if you are, or are in danger of becoming diabetic, follow these tips to help protect your hearing:
- Monitor and manage your blood sugar levels as best as possible.
- Get an annual hearing test.
- Avoid loud noise and other causes of hearing loss.
- Ascertain whether any medicines you take can damage your hearing and what other options are available.
These tips should form part of your diabetes care schedule.
Hearing loss can be frustrating for you and your family, and it can affect your social life.
If you have diabetes, keeping on top of your medication and treatment plans and following a healthy lifestyle regime is vital.
Many of us go to the gym to keep fit or apply sunscreen to protect our skin. Don’t neglect your ears. Your hearing is too important for that.