In the hearing care industry, we often think of hearing as the “canary in the coal mine” of the body’s systems. The delicate structures in the inner ear—which are responsible for converting mechanical sound into the electrical impulses that can be understood by the brain—are more easily harmed in the early phases of medical issues than other, larger systems in the body. For example, hearing loss that progresses faster than normal can be the result of an undiagnosed cardiovascular issue that has not yet become acute.
New Research Links Diabetes to Increased Risk of Hearing Loss
New research has found that diabetes also poses an increased risk of hearing loss. It turns out that hearing loss is twice as common in those with diabetes. For those with prediabetes, hearing loss is 30% more common than in those whose blood glucose is at normal levels.
It is not yet clear just how diabetes may cause hearing loss, but it is possible that elevated blood glucose might damage the tiniest blood vessels in the inner ear. It has been known for some time that diabetes can also damage the eyes and the kidneys, and this same mechanism may be at play in the increased risk of hearing loss, as well.
Whether you have diabetes or hearing loss, or not, it’s a good idea to get a regular hearing test. It’s American Diabetes Month, so why not schedule a hearing test as part of an overall program of maintaining your best health and well-being?
American Diabetes Month
Each November, the American Diabetes Association hosts American Diabetes Month. This is a time to spread awareness about the diabetes epidemic. Millions of people who are at risk for type 2 diabetes can gain valuable knowledge that can help them prevent its onset. Many people who are at risk may not even know it, and it’s important that everyone be aware that diabetes may become an issue for them someday. For those who are currently living with diabetes, American Diabetes Month is an opportunity to tell their stories and encourage progress toward a cure.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
A “non-modifiable” risk factor is one that you do not have control over, while a “modifiable” risk factor can be altered. Some of the non-modifiable risk factors for type 2 diabetes include:
Family Medical History – Some of the factors that determine our risk for diabetes are inherited from our parents or other close relatives. If you have a close blood relative with diabetes, your doctor should be aware of that.
Age Group – Prediabetes and type 2 diabetes generally affect those older than age 40. However, it is becoming more common for children and adolescents to develop type 2 diabetes.
Gestational Diabetes – If you temporarily experienced diabetes during pregnancy, you are at a higher risk of developing it again later in life.
You can make changes in your lifestyle and choices that can affect your risk of diabetes. With proper attention to modifiable risk factors, you can prevent or delay diabetes. While it may be a lot to try all at once, start by changing one thing, and slowly work to make more changes in your life to improve your health and avoid diabetes.
Weight – For those who are overweight, losing 5–10% of your body weight and getting regular physical exercise can significantly decrease your risk of developing diabetes. The more weight you lose, the more your risk is reduced.
Physical Activity – Even just as much as a 30-minute walk, 5 days a week, has been found to significantly reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. The ideal amount of physical activity for good health is:
150 minutes/week of aerobic exercise, moderate intensity
OR 75 minutes/week aerobic exercise, vigorous intensity
AND weight lifting, two or more days per week
Blood Pressure – High blood pressure can be reduced by avoiding alcohol and tobacco, getting exercise, limiting stress, lowering weight, and eating a healthy diet.
High Cholesterol – Lowering the level of “bad” cholesterol in your blood can be achieved by the same methods as lowering your blood pressure.
Smoking – Stopping smoking should be a major priority for better health and avoiding diabetes. There are online resources that can help you make a plan to quit.
Alcohol – Excessive drinking inflames the pancreas and limits its production of insulin. Alcohol is also high in sugar and starch—these calories must be used or stored as fat, which additionally contributes to the development of diabetes. It is recommended to drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women, or two for men, though there is evidence that even half that amount causes undesirable changes in the brain and body.
Diet – Diet is among the most significant predictors of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Recent studies have also found that eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet—such as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or AMED (Alternate Mediterranean Diet)—can significantly reduce your risk of hearing loss, independently of diabetes.
Stress and Sleep – High stress and too little sleep can add up to poor health, over time. Find time to relax every day before bedtime, preparing yourself to get 7–9 hours of good, uninterrupted sleep.
Remember, whether you have diabetes or hearing loss, or not, it’s important to have your hearing tested routinely. If you haven’t been tested in a while, take the opportunity this American Diabetes Month and take charge of your hearing health!