American Diabetes Month is a global campaign that raises awareness about the disease and the wide range of resources available to prioritize your health. The American Diabetes Association estimates that 38 million people have diabetes in the United States and 1.5 million people are diagnosed every year. Diabetes can affect health and wellness in a myriad of ways including increasing the risk of hearing loss. Studies actually show that people with diabetes can be twice as likely to develop hearing loss – a chronic medical condition that reduces capacity to hear and process speech as well as sound. If you have diabetes, or if you are prediabtic, it is especially important to practice safety measures that can protect your hearing health.
Link Between Diabetes & Hearing Loss
Research shows that there is a significant correlation between diabetes and hearing loss. This includes a major study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health, this study involved 11,405 participants both with and without diabetes. Participants had their hearing health and diabetes assessed and researchers found that among adults with diabetes:
- 21% experienced a mild or greater hearing loss of low or mid-frequency sounds compared to 9% of adults without diabetes.
- 54% experienced a mild or greater hearing loss of high-frequency sounds compared to 32% of adults without diabetes.
- Adults with prediabetes had a 30% higher rate of hearing loss
These findings reveal that people with diabetes were more than twice as likely to experience mild or greater hearing loss of low or mid-frequency sounds. This data supports further research that identifies diabetes as a risk factor for hearing loss. Lead researcher of this study, Catherine Cowie, Ph.D., commented, “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.”
Impact of Diabetes on Hearing Health
Though it is unknown how exactly diabetes affects hearing health, there are a few ideas. Diabetes involves an excess of glucose (sugar) in the bloodstream which is caused by the pancreas not producing enough insulin or insulin not being used effectively. Experts suggest that this can damage blood vessels in the body including the inner ear. This can affect the sensory cells in the cochlea which play a crucial role in how sound is processed.
Sensory cells in the inner ear convert incoming sound waves into electrical signals. These signals then get sent to the brain. The brain is then able to further process and assign meaning to these signals, allowing us to understand what we hear. Damaged blood vessels can disrupt this process by affecting the sensory cells and reducing their capacity to process soundwaves. This can result in the brain receiving less auditory information, producing hearing loss.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
American Diabetes Month is a great reminder to prioritize your health. There are several strategies you can practice to reduce your risk of developing hearing loss. This is particularly important for people with diabetes whose hearing health can be more vulnerable. A few tips you can implement include the following:
- Monitor diabetes. It is important to prioritize care for diabetes. You can do this by taking all medications, monitoring and ensuring glucose levels are on track, and practicing any regimens your doctor recommends.
- Test hearing. Another useful practice is to have your hearing tested regularly – annually is recommended by hearing healthcare specialists. Hearing tests involve a painless and noninvasive process that measures your hearing capacities in both ears. This allows you to track your hearing health and identify changes you may experience. Early detection and intervention can significantly support your hearing health.
- Reduce loud noise exposure. It is also important to reduce exposure to loud noise which is a common cause of hearing loss. There are numerous ways you can do this including: maintaining lower volume settings on your electronic devices, avoiding environments that are noisy, taking alternative routes to avoid traffic and construction sites, wearing hearing protection (headphones, earplugs, earmuffs etc.), and taking listening breaks throughout the day.
These tips can help prevent hearing loss, protecting your hearing health and wellness. Contact us to learn more about diabetes and hearing loss as well as to access the services and resources available to you!