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Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Chances are, a hearing test isn’t on the check-list of a lot of people with diabetes. It should be. People with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss. That means it’s even more important for them to protect their hearing.

What’s the Diabetes-Hearing Health Link?

Hearing depends on small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Researchers believe that over time high blood glucose levels can damage these blood vessels and nerves, lowering their ability to hear.

What does the research show?

Based on the findings of a study on the link between diabetes and hearing loss, Professor Hirohito Sone of the Department of Internal Medicine, Niigata University School of Medicine, Niigata, Japan, believes that hearing health should be included in good diabetes management.

Our findings support hearing screenings for people with diabetes starting at an earlier age than for people without the disease, he says. This is very important from a preventive healthcare perspective. We want to stop untreated hearing loss from leading to other health problems, like depression or dementia, which would make the diabetes burden even greater.

The study found that people with diabetes were 2.15 times more likely to have hearing loss. When broken down by age, it found that younger people were at an even greater risk. Those older than 60 with diabetes were 1.58 times more likely to have hearing loss, while the risk for those 60 and younger with the disease was 2.61 times higher.

Does Diabetes make hearing loss worse?

According to Kathleen L. Yaremchuk, M.D., Chair of the Department of Otolaryngology at Henry Ford Hospital: A certain degree of hearing loss is common with aging, but it is often accelerated in patients with diabetes, especially if blood-glucose levels are not being controlled.

In a 2012 study, they found that women between the ages of 60 and 75 with controlled diabetes had better hearing than women whose diabetes was not controlled.

Our findings point to the importance of patients controlling their diabetes and paying attention to their hearing health, she said. Because hearing loss tends to come on gradually, people aren’t always fully aware of its significance. But hearing loss can lead to withdrawal, isolation, and leave the individual subject to depression and other issues.

5 Habits for Healthier Hearing for People with Diabetes

People with diabetes are encouraged to take care of their hearing by following these five habits:

1) Get a hearing exam every year and watch for signs of hearing loss.

You do it for your eyes. Now do it for your ears. See a hearing professional every year for a hearing test. If you see a change in your hearing like at a restaurant or on a conference call go sooner. And be sure to tell your doctor.

2) Use hearing aids, if recommended.

Hearing aid technology has improved in recent years. Luckily, while hearing loss is not reversible, today’s hearing aids can enhance your ability to hear and engage with others which can make a difference in your overall quality of life. In addition, many hearing aids are virtually invisible, sitting discreetly inside the ear canal. They adjust to all kinds of noise environments and pick up sound from all directions. But best of all, they’re wireless. Today’s hearing aids stream sound from your smartphone, home entertainment system, and other electronics, directly into the hearing aid. All of this at volumes just right for you. Also, some are even waterproof.

3) Keep your blood sugar under control.

Just as your heart, eye, and nerve health are affected by your blood sugar levels, your hearing health is as well. So, work with your doctor to monitor your blood sugar and take your medicines as prescribed.

4) Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Even for people without diabetes, a healthy lifestyle benefits hearing health. So, not smoking, exercise, and a healthy diet all support your ability to hear. In fact, studies show that smoking and obesity increase the risk of hearing loss, while regular physical activity helps protect against it.

5) Use ear protection.

Everyone is at risk of noise-induced hearing loss. But using ear protection is one of the best things you can do to prevent it. Maybe try carrying earplugs with you, especially when you know you’ll be somewhere noisy. Use ear protection in loud work environments. Also, keep the volume on smartphones and other electronics low. Limit your use of headphones. In addition, get in the habit of plugging your ears with your fingers and walking away if a loud noise takes you by surprise. Most of all, limit your time in noisy environments.

Information from the Better Hearing Institute.