We all need to exercise a little caution when it comes to our hearing. We want to make sure we’re not exposed to extremely loud noise—or if we are, we need to make sure our hearing is protected. But noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL) is only one of the ways we can end up having hearing trouble. Even if we’re never exposed to a loud sound in our whole life—sayonara, music fans!—we might still end up with hearing loss from other causes.
About a third of people aged 65–74 have hearing loss, and about half of those 75 and up have it. Almost 100% of centenarians have it, suggesting we’ll all lose some hearing eventually! But that doesn’t mean we need to be fatalistic about losing our hearing! There’s a wide range of hearing loss, and the better we do at protecting ourselves from the causes of hearing loss, the less hearing loss we may have later on, which can make life a lot easier.
New research has found a striking link between diabetes and hearing loss. Let’s dig in and see what that means for us!
More Hearing Loss Among Those With Diabetes
Having diabetes raises our statistical risk of hearing loss by double. Having prediabetes increases the risk by 30%. A “statistical risk” means that people with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss as those who do not have diabetes, all other things being equal. That doesn’t mean it’s pure chance whether or not you’ll have hearing loss, but it does mean you may need to watch out for it more carefully.
The link between hearing loss and diabetes is somewhat complicated, but it is related to the increase in sugar it causes in our blood. Cardiovascular health, in general, is important to maintaining the health of our ears, and diabetes is one of the ways it can be compromised.
How Diabetes Causes Hearing Loss
Diabetes promotes something called “microangiopathy,” or “small blood vessel disease.” This causes anomalies in the smallest blood vessels in our body—the ones that provide energy to the tiny structures in our inner ears. Our ability to hear is reliant on the proper functioning of the stereocilia—tiny, hair-like cells—that reside in our cochleas. There are some 16,000 stereocilia in each ear, and when they don’t get what they need from the tiny blood vessels that feed them, they die. Once they are dead, they do not regenerate, and this causes hearing loss.
Microangiopathy can also affect nerve cells, which carry signals from the ears to the brain. This, too, can result in hearing loss, albeit of a slightly different kind.
An additional risk factor for those with diabetes is that some of the drugs that are recommended for controlling diabetes can cause hearing loss, themselves. Aspirin, certain antibiotics, and drugs designed to lower blood sugar can all cause hearing loss.
Additional Noise Risk
In addition to the other ways diabetes can cause hearing loss, it also increases the risk of hearing loss due to noise exposure. Essentially, this means it may take less noise than normal to cause noise-induced hearing loss.
Additional Precautions Against Hearing Loss for Those With Diabetes
Diabetes is not a guarantee of hearing loss, but it is worth taking additional precautions. Especially if we have diabetes, we should follow these guidelines:
- Check blood sugar regularly and control it carefully
- Eat a healthy diet – such as the Alternate Mediterranean Diet (AMED) or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH)
- Move our body regularly, or get regular exercise
- Get an annual checkup
- Investigate medication with medical personnel, regarding the risk of hearing loss associated
- Avoid noise exposure, and protect hearing whenever necessary
Hearing Loss Is Not the End of the World!
If we do have hearing loss, treatment is available that can make life a lot easier. It’s hard to estimate the impact that hearing loss can have until we’re actually living with it, and even then many of us don’t realize how much of a problem our hearing loss is causing until we start wearing hearing aids! Even for those with diabetes, hearing loss tends to come on slowly, so it can be difficult to see the effects it has on our lives until we “zoom out” and start treating it.
If you or a loved one may have hearing loss, make an appointment for a hearing test today and find out what hearing aids can do to help you stay healthier!