Is Diabetes a Contributing Factor for Hearing Loss?

According to Diabetes Canada, it is estimated that roughly 29% of Canadians are living with diabetes or prediabetes with about 10% of Canadians having been diagnosed with the disease. It is one of the most common conditions affecting the Canadian population. There are several causes and lifestyle factors that can lead to diabetes, such as poor nutrition, obesity, lack of exercise, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking. Age and family history can also play a role.

Quite often an unhealthy lifestyle is a considerable risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Diabetes can also lead to a variety of health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, nerve damage, and hearing loss.

How is diabetes related to hearing loss?

Research indicates that people with diabetes are more than two times as likely to develop hearing loss than people without the illness. Two separate studies conducted in 2008 and 2012 on large groups of participants yielded similar results, showing people with diabetes were over 50% more likely to develop hearing loss.

One typical effect of diabetes is nerve damage, which is known as diabetic neuropathy. Diabetic neuropathy occurs most frequently in the legs, feet, and hands, and researchers believe the same thing is happening to the nerves in the ear.

High blood sugar levels can have a range of detrimental effects throughout the body. High blood glucose has been known to cause damage to small blood vessels in the eyes and kidneys, impacting vision and kidney function. The ears are made up of a similar blood vessel system that may be damaged by high blood sugar levels leading to compromised function and hearing loss.

How can people with diabetes prevent hearing loss?

In some cases of hearing loss, such as sensorineural hearing loss, the damage is irreversible so it is best to take action as quickly as possible. Sensorineural hearing loss occurs when there is damage to the inner ear, including the auditory nerve. Taking deliberate precautions to avoid this irrevocable damage is the best preventative measure.

Some useful practices include:

  • Keep blood sugar levels low
    • Reduce sugar and carb intake – carbs get broken down into sugar by the body and can increase blood glucose levels
    • Maintain a diet high in fruit, vegetables, protein & fibre
  • Manage portion control to avoid overeating – eat several small meals or snacks throughout the day
  • Stay hydrated – drinking water throughout the days helps the kidneys flush out excess sugar
  • Get daily exercise
    • Helps with blood sugar management
    • Increases insulin sensitivity
    • Helps maintain healthy body weight
  • Maintain appropriate weight for body type
  • Manage stress levels – stress can increase the release of hormones which cause blood sugar levels to rise
  • Regular social activity – isolation & depression increase the risk of hearing loss
  • Listen to TV, radio, headphones, electronic devices at low volumes
  • Get evaluated by a hearing professional as soon as possible
    • Regular checkups help with early detection of issues to prevent permanent damage
    • Be sure to disclose diabetes with medical history to optimize treatment
    • A daily plan can be established for healthy life practices to prevent future hearing loss and manage existing hearing issues
    • The sooner hearing loss is detected and diagnosed the better it is for overall health and quality of life
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