Diabetes and Hearing Loss

If you have diabetes, you are likely to already know that some complications caused by diabetes can include kidney and heart problems. However, are you aware that it can also affect your hearing and balance? Hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes as it is in people of the same age who don’t. Even people with pre-diabetes have a 30% higher rate of aquiring hearing loss than people with normal blood sugar levels.

Hearing loss can be caused by a number of different things. It can happen if you spend too much time around loud sounds, or even simply due to age. Diabetes can lead to nerve damage that affects many parts of the body, including your eyes, kidneys, hands, and feet. It can also cause nerve damage in your ears.

Managing your blood sugar is a crucial part of your diabetes care and can also help protect your hearing. With time, blood sugar levels that are too low or too high can weaken the ear’s blood vessels, as well as the nerve cells in the inner ear, known as the “hair cells”. These hair cells rely on good circulation, just like other parts of the body, and once they are damaged, your hearing can be permanently affected. High blood sugar levels can damage small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear, and low blood sugar can impair how the nerve signals travel from the inner ear to your brain. It can also affect your vestibular system, which is the part of your inner ear that helps with balance. Damage to this area can result in dizziness and an increased risk of falls.

Hearing loss often happens gradually over time, so it can be difficult to notice. Most of the time your friends and family members will notice your hearing loss before you do. It can be frustrating and isolating, and it can affect your work and social life.

Signs of hearing loss include:

  • Feeling like others are mumbling
  • Trouble following conversations with more than one person
  • Often asking for repetition
  • Problems hearing in noisy environments
  • Having the TV or radio volume louder than your family and/or friends would like it

This type of hearing loss cannot be reversed, however, there are things you can do to help protect your hearing:

  • Keep your blood sugar as close to your target levels as possible
  • Avoid other causes of hearing loss
  • Speak to your doctor about whether your current medication plan can damage your hearing and if there are other options are available
  • Reduce hypertension
  • Manage your weight
  • Exercise as often as your can
  • Get your hearing checked annually

When diagnosed with diabetes you should have your hearing tested straight away, in order to establish a baseline. You should then continue to monitor your hearing by testing it every year after that. If you think you have hearing loss, contact a hearing healthcare professional as soon as possible.

– By Talia Lifson, Audiologist