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The Effect of Diabetes on Hearing Health
Each year in November The American Diabetes Association celebrates American Diabetes Month to raise awareness about the tens of millions of Americans that suffer from it, the actions they take to manage it and the warning signs that others should look out for. One lesser known fact about diabetes is its connection to another of America’s most common health concerns: disabling hearing loss.
An estimated 37 million Americans live with diabetes and over 34 million live with some degree of hearing loss. A high percentage of these people have both.
Someone with diabetes is twice as likely to have hearing loss than the general population according to a recent study by The National Institute of Health (NIH). The complications most commonly associated with diabetes include heart, kidney, and eye trouble, but it would appear that hearing loss is almost as prevalent.
The NIH study analyzed hearing tests in adults aged 20-60 performed between 1999 and 2004, measuring their abilities to hear high, middle, and low frequencies in both ears. These tests are called pure tone audiometry tests. The correlation between diabetes and hearing loss effected all frequencies, but impacted the high frequencies range most.
Furthermore, the hearing of adults with pre-diabetes was also impacted. Pre-diabetes is a diagnosis meaning that a person will contract diabetes within a decade if they do not take preventative measures. It is estimated that 88 million Americans fall into this category and they were found to be 30% more likely to have hearing loss than their counterparts with normal blood glucose levels.
The hearing tests measures hearing in eight different manners and a questionnaire. Though the connection had been suspected since the 1960s, the findings decisively contradicted earlier assumptions and found that the effects of diabetes on hearing health could emerge in people as young as 30 years old.
What Exactly and Why
Diabetes is a disease characterized by the failure of the pancreas to create sufficient insulin, which regulates blood glucose levels. This deviation in blood glucose levels is a major reason for heart disease, strokes, blindness, kidney failure and even amputations of the hands and feet. All of these consequences come down to the added stress that this increased glucose puts on our vascular and nerve systems over time.
Over 90% of those with diabetes have Type 2 diabetes, as opposed to Type 1 which comes on in youth and is often referred to as Juvenile Diabetes. Type 2 diabetes usually comes on after 40 and is most common in people who are overweight or inactive, though genetics of course also plays a role.
Pre-diabetes has no symptoms, but does increase the risks of heart attacks and strokes. But moderating diet and increasing one’s exercise can often be enough to stall or even thwart the eventual onset of diabetes.
The hearing problems associated with diabetes and pre-diabetes all stem from these same causes as all the other havoc that diabetes wreaks upon our bodies. The tiny veins within our inner ears are harmed by the higher glucose levels in the blood. The normal operations cannot proceed as smoothly and things break down.
Hearing loss can be caused by all kinds of things: aging, disease, noise. It is very difficult to recognize and diagnose in one’s self because its symptoms are so subtle and come on so gradually. It often comes down to family or friends noting the changes in one’s habits before one can recognize it: Asking people to repeat themselves, trouble following conversations, turning up the volume to a degree that others find uncomfortable.
What To Do
Both diabetes and hearing loss are permanent and irreversible. There is no cure for either. But being as common as they both are there are multitudes of treatment options for each that minimize their effects. You can live a totally normal, happy life with both diabetes and hearing loss so long as you keep up on the appropriate and effective treatments unique to your case. But left untreated, the consequences of both conditions do escalate, which is why it is so important to take action today. If you are diabetic, make it a habit to get regular full hearing exams with one of our trained specialists.