Hearing loss in diabetics is a very common issue. People with diabetes are in fact twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss compared to those without the condition. The effects of high blood sugar levels can disrupt your sound reception and make it harder to hear. If you or a loved one have diabetes, it is vital for you to monitor your hearing health closely.
Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body processes blood sugar, also known as glucose. For the body to work properly, a healthy level of glucose in the blood needs to be maintained. Glucose is your body’s main source of energy and comes primarily from the carbohydrates in our diet.
When we eat these foods, the bloodstream carries the glucose around your body, where cells convert it into energy. In order to break down the glucose and allow it to enter your cells, the body needs insulin, a hormone produced in the pancreas.
If you have diabetes, it means your pancreas makes too little insulin, or sometimes none. The glucose you eat will stay in your blood instead of being turned into energy. High levels of glucose in your blood can have short- and long-term effects on your body, possibly causing damage to your brain, kidneys, heart, feet and eyes.
A 2008 study conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), suggests that diabetes is not only more prevalent in diabetics, but also an often under-recognised complication of the disease.
The ear is a very delicate structure and hearing depends on precise functioning of the nerves and blood vessels that supply the inner ear. As diabetes takes its toll on the small blood vessels throughout the body, the ears are also damaged.
Whilst other parts of your body can accommodate for damaged blood vessels, by depending on alternative blood supplies, your ear doesn’t have that option. The hair cells of the inner ear rely on good blood circulation to maintain your hearing health. These hair cells are very fragile and susceptible to chemical changes in the body. Once these cells are damaged, hearing loss becomes irreversible.
Diabetes can also cause the breakdown of nerves in the ears. These nerves may experience fibre loss and degeneration, the same kind of damage that causes symptoms such as tingling and numbness in extremities, like toes and fingertips. Damage to these structures diminishes the ability to hear.
Diabetes and hearing loss are two of Australia’s most widespread health concerns. Nearly 1.5 million people in Australia have diabetes and an estimated 3.5 million have some type of hearing loss. These two groups of people appear to overlap significantly.
Hearing loss is, in fact, twice as common in people with diabetes as it is in those who do not have the disease. In adults who are suspected to have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 per cent higher than in those with normal blood sugar levels. It appears that hearing damage is more common in Type 2 diabetes than in Type 1 diabetes.
It is important that those living with diabetes understand the risks and long-term implications of hearing loss. The physical and psychological effects of hearing loss are well-established and can be debilitating.
Left undetected, hearing loss in adults with diabetes can lead to significant health, social and economic problems including falls, cognitive decline, social isolation, and reduced ability to learn and work.
Research suggests that hearing loss increases the risk of dementia because it reduces the stimuli from the environment that keeps our brain healthy. Family and friends will often be the first to notice signs of hearing loss, long before the person experiencing it.
They may comment that their family member or friend is missing parts of the conversation or that the television seems louder than it should. General Practitioners also play a critical role in recognising the physical and mental risks of hearing loss in patients living with diabetes thus helping to prevent the onset of withdrawal, isolation, and depression.
People with diabetes should talk to their doctors about their concerns and remain diligent about following through with regular recommended hearing checks. If you have diabetes it is also vital that you keep on top of your medication and treatment plans and it is also important to follow a healthy lifestyle, by exercising and eating the correct foods.
Hearing health is something we often do not prioritise, and hearing loss happens gradually over time. Part of supporting your overall health involves caring for your ears. The diabetes association advises to always keep good control of blood sugar levels as this is the best way to protect your hearing from damage due to diabetes.
Hearing loss associated with diabetes can be gradual or have a sudden onset. It can affect anyone living with diabetes, so it is imperative to have regular hearing checks. The earlier hearing loss is identified, the more effective treatment options, such as hearing aids will be.
Hearing assessments should be carried out by a certified audiologist, who can perform not just a hearing screen but full Pure Tone Audiometry, the main hearing test used to identify hearing levels. Testing should enable the audiologist to identify the degree, type and configuration of a hearing loss.
Speech discrimination testing identifies the effects of the hearing loss on our ability to hear and understand speech and a test of middle ear function identifies any abnormalities with the eardrum or mechanical structures of the middle ear, such as the eardrum, middle ear cavity or middle ear bones. At the end of a full assessment, the audiologist will report the findings to the patient and to the doctor.
Audiologists also have the knowledge to discuss options for management of hearing impairment based on the result of the hearing test. The cost of a hearing covers the testing and a full report to your doctor or specialist, with the results and recommendations for management.
For diabetes patients on an Enhanced Primary Care Plan, the cost of a hearing test is fully-subsidised under Medicare at all Attune Hearing Clinics, Australia-wide.
We recommend that all people with diabetes should have their hearing checked on an annual basis. The first assessment checks if there is a hearing loss and, if one is identified, a regular annual check is organised to monitor any changes or progression of the hearing loss.
Hearing assessment should be part of every diabetes sufferer’s yearly routine. Early intervention is the key to managing hearing loss as it results in more effective ongoing management.
If you have questions or concerns about your hearing or would like to schedule a diagnostic hearing test with one of our certified audiologists, give us a call today!