By: Nancy Wagner
People with type 2 diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss as those without diabetes. People with prediabetes have a 30% higher rate of hearing loss than those with normal blood sugar, according to the 2009 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Scientists aren’t quite sure of the link or cause but have some theories:
- Chronic high blood sugars: These can damage blood vessels, thus disrupting blood flow to the cochlea, a small organ in the ear which is responsible for our hearing.
- Fluctuating blood sugars: frequent swings between very high blood sugars and very low blood sugars can damage the blood vessels in the ear.
- Chronic high blood sugars or rapid swings between high and low blood sugars may cause the cochlea to become inflamed and this swelling causes damage to the tissue and blood vessels.
Hearing loss usually happens gradually so it often goes undetected. Many times a family member or close friend will notice the problem before the person with diabetes does. Symptoms of hearing loss include:
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves.
- Trouble hearing higher pitched voices/noises – women and young children.
- Needing to turn the volume up on your TV or radio or cell phone.
- Having trouble hearing when there is background noise.
- Having trouble following a conversation involving more than 2 people.
- Not understanding someone talking in another room or when their back is turned.
Risk factors for hearing loss besides diabetes include:
- 65 years old or older
- Regularly exposed to loud noises
- Genetically predisposed to hearing loss
- Non-Hispanic white
- Living with heart disease
- Frequent ear infections (now or when younger)
If you suspect you have hearing loss talk to your primary care provider. He or she may refer you to an audiologist who will conduct a hearing test. Once the inner ear is damaged, you can’t restore hearing. However, there are devices available including hearing aids and amplifiers for your phone. The audiologist will also teach you strategies such as lip reading.
Hearing loss can lead to embarrassment and isolation so please reach out to your provider for help. I developed hearing loss about 8 years ago as a result of a genetic predisposition. I learned many strategies from my audiologist and wear hearing aids in both ears. Your audiologist will also have helpful resources on paying for your hearing aids.
Nancy Wagner is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and a Certified Diabetes Educator at Copley Hospital. She enjoys helping others learn new things about nutrition, their health habits, and their chronic diseases