The Unseen Connection: Diabetes and Hearing Loss Explained

Many factors contribute to hearing loss – aging and exposure to loud sounds are common culprits. Yet, an often overlooked link exists between diabetes and hearing loss. If you have diabetes, maintaining optimal blood sugar supports overall health and may shield your hearing. Delving deeper into this connection, we find that individuals with diabetes face double the risk of hearing issues. Recognizing early indicators and proactive measures is essential. Join us as we explore the intertwined relationship between diabetes and hearing health, emphasizing the importance of heightened awareness for those affected by both conditions.


Understanding the Basics of Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is a gradual decline in auditory function, making it challenging to recognize its onset. Its various forms often manifest subtly, leading friends or family to detect it before the individual does. Key indicators of hearing loss encompass:


  • Repeatedly asking people to speak up.
  • Struggling to follow multi-person conversations.
  • Perceiving speech as mumbled.
  • Difficulty hearing in bustling environments like restaurants.
  • Straining to hear soft voices, especially of children.
  • Amplifying the volume on devices to levels uncomfortable for others.
  • Experiencing balance issues due to inner ear complications.


Learn more about hearing loss types


Diabetes, on the other hand, is a chronic ailment affecting how the body metabolizes food into energy. It’s categorized into:


  • Type 1 Diabetes: This form results from an autoimmune response, halting insulin production. Representing 5-10% of diabetic cases, it can manifest at any age. Individuals with type 1 require daily insulin. Its exact cause remains unknown.
  • Type 2 Diabetes: Affecting 90-95% of diabetic individuals, type 2 results from inefficient insulin usage, leading to elevated blood sugar. Often seen in adults, but increasingly in younger people, it might not exhibit obvious symptoms. Regular blood sugar testing is vital for those at risk. Fortunately, adopting a healthy lifestyle can mitigate or delay its onset. Such practices include weight management, a nutritious diet, and regular physical activity.
  • Gestational Diabetes: This temporary condition appears in expectant mothers who’ve never had diabetes. While it typically resolves post-birth, it escalates future type 2 diabetes risks for both mother and child. Additionally, it augments the child’s chances of childhood obesity.
  • Prediabetes: A prevalent condition in the US, affecting over 96 million adults, or roughly 1 in 3. Shockingly, about 84% of this population remains unaware. In prediabetes, blood sugar is elevated but not at type 2 diabetes levels. This state increases the risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiac diseases, and strokes. The silver lining is that with recommended lifestyle adjustments, it’s possible to reverse prediabetes.


In understanding both hearing loss and diabetes separately, it’s crucial to delve into how they intersect. This brings us to our next discussion: the intricate scientific relationship between diabetes and hearing impairment.

An older woman cups her hand around her ear to hear better.

The Science Behind the Connection Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss


Diabetes, characterized by chronic elevated blood sugar levels, wreaks havoc on various body parts, from hands and feet to vital organs like the eyes and kidneys. Notably, it also profoundly affects the auditory system, particularly the ears. But what’s the science behind this correlation?


  1. Damage to the Inner Ear:

The human ear is a delicate structure, with tiny blood vessels and nerves that play pivotal roles in hearing. Consistent high blood sugar levels pose a significant threat to these vital components. These elevated levels compromise the inner ear’s small blood vessels and nerves. Conversely, prolonged low blood sugar can interfere with transmitting nerve signals from the inner ear to the brain. This dual threat results in an amplified risk of hearing loss.


  1. The Role of Blood Sugar:

Hearing loss rates among people with diabetes are alarming. Individuals with diabetes are twice as prone to hearing impairment as their non-diabetic counterparts. Even more startling is the statistic concerning prediabetics, who showcase a 30% surge in hearing loss rates compared to those with standard blood sugar levels. Theories suggest that escalated blood sugar could be the culprit behind blood vessel and inner ear structure damage, thus leading to hearing impairment.


  1. Research Insights:

The connection between diabetes and hearing loss isn’t just anecdotal; it’s backed by substantial research. A pivotal study by Bainbridge, Hoffman, & Cowie in 2008 authenticated the strong association between these two conditions. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a meta-analysis in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism further solidified this link. The latter analysis, which considered 13 studies and over 20,000 participants, concluded that regardless of age, people with diabetes consistently exhibited higher hearing loss rates.


  1. Effects on Balance:

Beyond hearing, diabetes affects the body’s equilibrium. Damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear disrupts the vestibular system responsible for maintaining balance. Consequently, individuals with diabetes often report dizziness and an increased frequency of falls.


  1. The Connection to Tinnitus:

Tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, also appears more prevalent among people with diabetes. While often linked with unrecognized hearing loss, people with diabetes seem predisposed to tinnitus, even without any hearing impairment. Certain diabetes medications exacerbate the issue, contributing to hearing loss or tinnitus.


In conclusion, it’s evident that diabetes significantly intertwines with the auditory system. Regular screenings and proactive measures are imperative for people with diabetes to manage their primary condition and preserve their hearing and balance capabilities.


Discover more about the causes of tinnitus

A woman gets a hearing screening at a hearing center.

Detecting and Addressing Hearing Loss in People With Diabetes


Diabetes has an extensive reach within the body, and its potential effects on hearing are undeniable. To safeguard auditory health, early detection, and preventive actions are paramount.


The Imperative of Routine Screenings:

Yearly hearing screenings are vital to a diabetic’s health regimen, akin to routine eye exams. Patients should undergo a hearing assessment by an audiologist upon a diabetes diagnosis and continue with annual check-ups after that. These evaluations provide valuable baseline data and detect changes over time, ensuring that both the patient and their healthcare team remain informed.


EAR: A Strategy for Protecting Your Hearing:

To streamline the approach to auditory health for diabetics, consider the acronym EAR: Evaluation, Awareness, and Risk reduction.


  • Evaluation: Begin with a professional hearing screening. Even if no current issues are detected, this initial evaluation sets a benchmark for future assessments. Self-assessment tools, readily available, also allow patients to monitor their hearing without specialized equipment. Staying attuned to changes can lead to early intervention.
  • Awareness: Knowledge is power. Understanding how diabetes influences the body, including its potential auditory implications, equips patients to take proactive measures. Keeping blood sugar levels within target ranges improves overall health and protects the auditory system.
  • Risk Reduction: A holistic understanding of diabetes and its potential complications facilitates better self-care. Consider attending formal diabetes self-care training sessions. Such programs offer lifestyle strategies to manage blood sugar effectively, practical methods to lower complication risks, and advice on shielding the ears from harmful noises.


Proactive Measures for Prevention:

While hearing loss is irreversible, several actions can help protect and preserve auditory health:


  • Maintain blood sugar within target levels.
  • Annually get your hearing tested.
  • Avoid exposure to loud noises.
  • Discuss potential ototoxic side effects of medications with your doctor.


Learn more about ototoxic medications


Remember, hearing loss can strain both personal and social dynamics. Protecting one’s hearing, therefore, extends beyond physical health, ensuring overall well-being and quality of life. Incorporating hearing checks into the broader diabetes care regimen provides a comprehensive approach to managing the disease and its potential complications.

The outside of An American Hearing + Audiology office.

Recognizing the Dual Challenge of Diabetes and Hearing Loss

In wrapping up, it’s evident that the intricate relationship between diabetes and auditory health requires meticulous attention. Maintaining optimal blood sugar levels, staying informed, and taking proactive measures are instrumental in preserving one’s hearing and overall quality of life. Given the significant implications, we urge everyone, especially those with diabetes, to prioritize their auditory health. Don’t wait for symptoms to manifest; prevention is the best approach. Schedule your hearing screening at American Hearing and Audiology today and take the first step towards safeguarding your hearing health.