Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as those without the disease. If you are living with diabetes, reduce your risk of diabetes-related hearing loss with these tips.
About 16 percent of U.S. adults complain of hearing loss, and that number is on the rise, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Among people with diabetes, the NIH reports that hearing-loss rates double.
As with many conditions associated with diabetes, tight blood sugar control and a solid diabetic management strategy can help you avoid hearing loss. Steering clear of other hearing loss risk factors, such as smoking and working in loud occupations, can help protect your ears as well.
“Everything you do to reduce [diabetic] complications will reduce the risk of hearing loss,” says certified diabetes educator and diabetes care researcher Ann Williams, PhD, RN, CDE, a research associate at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. Williams points out that diabetes educators and medical management teams have traditionally been more focused on the long-term impact of diabetes on vision, but current data underscores the importance of protecting hearing as well. “You do not want both hearing and vision impaired,” she notes.
The Diabetes-Hearing Loss Connection
A study published in the journal of Otology and Neurotology explored the way that diabetes could affect hearing, and found that diabetes is related to hearing loss at all sound registers, suggesting that it can cause profound damage to the inner ear.
Your ear is a delicate structure — and one that you depend on every day. So when diabetes, especially with poorly controlled blood sugar, takes its toll on the small blood vessels throughout your body, you ears are damaged, too. And while other parts of your body can accommodate for damaged blood vessels by depending on alternative blood supplies, your ear lacks that option.
“There’s no redundancy in the blood supply to the inner ear,” explains hearing loss researcher and otolaryngologist Yuri Agrawal, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. This means that once a blood vessel is damaged, there’s no back-up blood supply — and your hearing dulls accordingly. Along with losing your hearing, you will experience an increased risk of falling because your inner ear not only helps manage your hearing but also your sense of balance.
How You Can Prevent Diabetes-Related Hearing Loss
Agrawal and colleagues looked at hearing and health information from 3,527 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2002 to gain a greater understanding of diabetes’ effects on hearing. She found that hearing-loss risk increases as measures of blood sugar control, such as A1C results, get worse.
“Our research suggests a dose-response relationship,” Agrawal says. “Having higher A1C results means a greater risk of hearing loss as well.”
Even though many people experience hearing loss as they age, there is a lot you can do to reduce your risk and preserve hearing, including:
Control blood sugar. Managing type 1 and type 2 diabetes can be hard work at times, but gaining and maintaining tight blood sugar control could keep your ears sharp longer.
Don’t smoke. Smoking speeds hearing loss on its own, but acts as a risk multiplier when combined with other hearing loss risk factors, such as poorly controlled diabetes, working in an environment full of loud noise, or frequently using firearms (more than once a month for a year).
Manage loud noise. When researchers look at hearing loss, they consider a noisy work environment to be one in which you have to raise your voice to be heard. This kind of environment increases your risk of hearing loss. If you can’t switch tasks or jobs, consider using noise canceling or reducing devices to protect your ears.
“Hearing should be considered a diabetes-related complication,” Agrawal emphasizes. She also says that though there are no official recommendations for hearing screenings if you have diabetes, she advises patients with diabetes to have their hearing checked annually.
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By Madeline Vann, MPH | Medically reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD