Hearing loss is nearly twice as likely in adults with diabetes compared to adults without diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, over 30 million people have diabetes in the U.S., amounting to nearly 11% of the population. Additionally, 1.5 Americans are diagnosed with diabetes every year. A chronic health condition, diabetes is a disease that causes increased levels of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream. Blood glucose comes from the food we consume and is our main source of energy. Insulin, a hormone made and released by the pancreas, helps convert glucose from food to energy for the cells. Sometimes, the body doesn’t produce enough insulin or doesn’t effectively use it which results in excess glucose in the blood. This can contribute to various medical conditions including hearing loss.
Understanding Hearing Loss
Impaired hearing is much more of a common medical condition than you may expect. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), nearly 1 in 8 people (ages 12 and older) have some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears. Affecting over 40 million people in the U.S., hearing loss is the third most common health condition that older adults experience. Hearing loss can be caused by a variety of factors including: environmental exposure to loud noise, aging, genetic history, and existing medical conditions (hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes etc.).
Often developing gradually over time, hearing loss reduces a person’s ability to hear and process sound. Impaired hearing can range from mild to severe and significantly impacts daily life by straining communication. Having conversations and engaging with others can become difficult which impacts relationships, managing job responsibilities, and social life. Untreated hearing loss can also contribute to various health risks such as accidental injuries and cognitive decline.
Hearing Loss & Diabetes
The investigation of the relationship between hearing loss and diabetes dates back to the 1960s. The two conditions have long been associated but in a major 2008 study, findings revealed a significant correlation. Researchers at the NIDCD analyzed results from hearing tests and responses to a diabetes questionnaire administered from 1999-2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This study included 11,405 participants ages 20 – 69 and the findings showed that adults with diabetes were also more likely to have hearing loss. The research specifically found:
- Low-Mid Frequency Hearing Loss:
- 21% percent in adults with diabetes
- 9% in adults without diabetes
- High Frequency Hearing Loss:
- 54% percent in adults with diabetes
- 32% in adults without diabetes
Discussing these results, Catherine Cowie, senior author of the study, remarked: “”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.”
These findings highlight that diabetes is a risk factor for hearing loss but how exactly it contributes to its development remains unclear. Researchers suggest that diabetes could damage the nerves and blood vessels located in the inner ear. The inner ear consists of thousands of hair cells, fluid, and blood vessels that are integral to how we hear. These critical components help translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to process, which is how we are able to understand what we hear. Damaged hair cells mean a reduced capacity to translate soundwaves which makes it difficult for the brain to then process the incoming sound and information.
Have Your Hearing Tested
If you have diabetes or are predisposed to diabetes, it is important to have your hearing tested. Incorporating hearing tests into your health routines is a great way to reduce your risk of profound impairment. Hearing tests are noninvasive and measure your hearing ability in both ears. This establishes any impairment and the degree which informs the most effective treatment option for your hearing needs.
Fortunately, there are effective ways hearing loss is treated that allow people to navigate their day with greater ease. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are small, electronic devices that are designed to amplify and process sound. This can significantly increase one’s ability to hear which improves communication and overall quality of life!