Diabetes is a medical disease that results in elevated blood glucose levels, and it has been linked to a number of health troubles. Among these known health associations is the link to hearing loss, which has been more carefully dissected over the past several years and now seems to be accepted science. Most recently, a study from the National Institutes of Health combined the results of 13 prior studies on the subject and found that impaired hearing was twice as common among people with diabetes — but many individuals with diabetes are still unaware of the link.
After taking into account advanced age — when years of prior hearing abuse begins to catch up — the link between diabetes and hearing loss was actually stronger in individuals 60 or younger. In this instance, those under the age of 60 were over 2.5 times more likely to have some level of hearing loss, which seems to strengthen the case that diabetes stands out as a significant factor in cases of hearing loss.
This nationally representative study of 11,405 adults between the ages of 20 and 69 showed that diabetes and hearing loss are linked and fairly evident as early as age 30. Diabetes in and of itself can be a fairly significant health issue if it’s left untreated, and it seems that hearing loss only exacerbates it. Although researchers still aren’t certain how the damage to the inner ear occurs, it may be as simple as damage to the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear. Previously, autopsy studies of diabetic patients have shown evidence of just that sort of damage.
There are also differences in the types of diabetes individuals have, although studies typically don’t separate type 1 diabetes and type 2 diabetes. About 95 percent of diabetes cases are type 2, meaning they’re the result of a defect in the way the body responds to insulin. Type 2 diabetes typically occurs after the age of 40 and is far more common in people who are overweight, inactive, and have a genetic predisposition to the disease. In fact, diabetes is almost as common (over 25 million Americans) as hearing loss (over 36 million Americans), and a startling 79 million Americans over the age of 20 are pre-diabetic. Pre-diabetes is reversible, however, with proper diet and exercise, but that won’t prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes entirely.
If you have diabetes and are concerned about the possibility of experiencing a hearing loss, which is irreversible, please contact your local audiologist for more information. Board-certified hearing care providers have the knowledge to assist you with your concerns, and they can help you look at potential roadblocks — and solutions — on your journey to better hearing and a healthier life.