Hearing loss is connected to a wide range of other conditions. In some cases, the connection is direct. For instance, those who work in a noisy industrial facility will likely have higher rates of hearing loss among the employees due to noise exposure over time. Other connections are more difficult to parse. Take, for instance, the connection between hearing loss and dementia. Researchers are still developing an understanding of the connection between these two conditions, but it seems likely that hearing loss leads to communication difficulties that actually lead to cognitive decline, including dementia. With so many steps in the causal mechanism, researchers have a difficult task to understand how they connect, exactly. The same is true of the connection between hearing loss and diabetes. Let’s consider the connection between these two conditions, as well as what might cause them to be related. With that connection in mind, we can explore ways to prevent both conditions, as well as their comorbidities.
Hearing Loss and Diabetes
At the level of raw statistics, we know that those with diabetes or prediabetes diagnosis have 30 percent higher rates of hearing loss than their counterparts who do not have elevated blood sugar levels. That number might be even higher for those with a full-blown case of diabetes. How exactly are these two related?
It seems as though there is something about the elevated glucose levels in the blood that lead to hearing damage. Those with these very high levels of glucose may not be able to deliver the oxygenated blood to the ears that is necessary to preserve their functioning. When those levels are so high, the tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia can be deprived of what they need to function. These organelles need to be very sensitive to be able to detect subtle differences in frequencies at various volumes.
However, that same sensitivity that makes it possible to discern sound also makes them susceptible to damage. When they are bent or broken, hearing loss and tinnitus are both possible results. In the case of hearing loss, the stereocilia are unable to detect and register a given frequency. In the case of tinnitus, it’s almost as if that receptor is switched to the “on” position, sending along sonic information to the brain even when there is no outside source. Diabetes can lead to continuously high glucose levels which can further lead to damage to the sensitive stereocilia.
Managing Diabetes, Preventing Hearing Loss
Those who have diabetes should remain in close contact with their health care providers to monitor and manage their condition. For some, daily testing is necessary, while others can benefit from insulin shots to keep a steady flow. Diet and exercise are commonly prescribed tools for management. In some cases, doctors may restrict sugar intake, while others will simply need to pursue a balanced diet rich in whole grains and vegetables and low in processed foods and sweeteners. Exercise can help regulate blood glucose levels naturally, and it has a holistic benefit for the body in other ways, as well.
How about preventing hearing loss? In combination with preventing or managing diabetes, hearing loss prevention is an ongoing practice that requires mindfulness and vigilance. In addition to wearing hearing protection in the form of earplugs or more advanced protective devices, limiting the use of headphones and earbuds is a key to keeping the hearing function of the ears long in life. These devices are a hidden danger, potentially emitting very loud sound that can only be endured for a few minutes before a damaging effect sets in.
It appears that the same healthy lifestyle behaviors of eating right and exercising can have a positive effect on hearing health, as well. If you are concerned that you have undiagnosed hearing loss, be sure to confer with your general practice physician about your overall health.
For comprehensive hearing health services, schedule a hearing test with us to get a complete diagnosis of your hearing ability and needs. Our team can assess if you would benefit from treatment and can recommend the right range of hearing aids for your individual needs. Contact us today!