Diabetes and hearing loss are two of America's most widespread health concerns. More than 34 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and an estimated 34.5 million have some type of hearing loss. Those represent two large groups of people, and it appears there is a lot of overlap between the two. A study in 2008 by Cowie, et al. found that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease. Also, of the 88 million adults in the U.S. who have prediabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than in those with normal blood glucose.
The link between diabetes and hearing loss is not fully understood. More research is needed to fully understand why so many diabetics experience hearing loss, but there are some explanations for this connection.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), diabetics are more than twice as likely to develop mild to moderate hearing loss compared to people without diabetes. The existing evidence points towards blood circulation as the problem: diabetes causes damage to the blood vessels, and good circulation helps the hair cells inside the ear pick up sound. Over time, diabetes can cause problems with the blood vessels, hair cells and nerves inside the ears. When the hair cells begin to deteriorate, there is a risk of hearing loss and tinnitus. Furthermore, once these hair cells are damaged, they cannot heal or regenerate.
Sensorineural hearing loss is permanent and can only be treated or alleviated with hearing aids or cochlear implants. Sensorineural hearing loss also occurs slowly over time, making it hard to detect. Many people do not realize they have hearing loss until they are seriously impacted by what they lost, and then it is too late to preserve it. This makes hearing loss prevention the top priority.
Some signs of hearing loss include:
Tinnitus is common among diabetics with hearing loss. Tinnitus is the perception of sound with an external signal present. It can come in many different forms, which may come and go, or may be a persistent sound. A partial list of the types of sounds tinnitus patient perceive includes buzzing, humming, ringing, roaring and/or hissing.
What should I do if I suspect a hearing loss?
Talk to your primary care doctor. You may also want to seek help from hearing specialist like an audiologist, a licensed hearing aid dispenser or a doctor who specializes in hearing problems. The results of a full hearing exam will provide more information about your hearing loss and what treatment options are available.