Hearing Loss as a Complication of Diabetes

When examining potential complications of diabetes, neuropathy and retinopathy often receive the most attention. What many people don’t know is that uncontrolled diabetes can also lead to hearing loss. By better understanding how diabetes impacts hearing, steps can be taken to prevent this complication.  

How Diabetes Affects Hearing

According to the American Diabetes Association, a recent study has determined that hearing loss is twice as common among people with diabetes as it is among those without the disease. The problem also extends to people with prediabetes. Approximately 84 million U.S. adults are pre-diabetic, and the rate of hearing loss is 30% higher among this population than in those who have normal blood glucose levels.

Researchers believe there are several ways that diabetes may impact hearing. First, when blood sugar levels rise, nerves in the ears break down. These blood vessels are very small, and when thickened blood attempts to travel through tiny capillaries, damage may occur.

Additionally, the hearing mechanism relies on special hair cells found in the cochlea. The hair cells are very sensitive and work by detecting environmental changes. Increased glucose in the blood is believed to affect the proper function of these cells.

Protecting the Ears against Diabetes-Related Hearing Loss

Fortunately, hearing loss is not inevitable among people with diabetes, and there are ways to prevent it. The most important step is to maintain good blood sugar control. This includes taking any prescribed medications, portion control, eating a healthy diet, and getting regular exercise. Not only will you protect your hearing, but you’ll also enjoy many other overall health benefits.

Another way to prevent diabetes-related hearing loss is to avoid smoking. Smoking speeds up hearing loss by itself, but when combined with other hearing loss factors like uncontrolled diabetes, it acts like a multiplier. Current smokers should talk to their doctors about interventions that may help them to quit.

Currently, there are no official recommendations for hearing screenings for people with diabetes. People living with the disease should be sure to have their progress managed by a doctor regularly and discuss any signs of hearing loss immediately.