November is American Diabetes Month and it’s a great opportunity to schedule your hearing exam! You might wonder why exactly, we’re connecting diabetes and hearing loss, but the truth is that they’re strongly linked.
Most people are aware of the fact that diabetes can bring a whole host of other health issues, like cardiovascular disease and nerve damage. What most people don’t know is that rates of hearing loss are much higher in people with diabetes and prediabetes.
Recent studies reveal how profound these links really are. Researchers discovered that hearing loss is two times more likely in people who have diabetes than in those who don’t. Even people who exhibit signs of prediabetes are at higher risk, with a 30 percent higher rate of hearing loss compared to people who have normal blood glucose.
What is diabetes?
Diabetes is a disease that affects more than 34 million American adults. Another almost 90 million people in the United States show signs of prediabetes, which means that their blood sugar levels stray from the norm.
Put simply, diabetes indicates an inability to turn food into energy efficiently. When we consume food, our bodies break it down into useful parts. Most of these parts are glucose (sugars) which are sent into the bloodstream. From there, the body also releases naturally made insulin, produced by the pancreas to assist in delivering the powerful glucose blocks to cells. Insulin is instrumental in ‘allowing’ the glucose to enter the cell and be used as energy.
When people have diabetes, this process is inefficient. If you have Type I diabetes, then your body does not produce enough insulin to complete the process and you must rely on insulin injections. For people with Type II diabetes, their bodies have become insulin resistant. In these cases, a combination of medication and lifestyle changes including increased exercise and low-carb diets are encouraged to help manage the disease.
How diabetes can harm hearing
When the body cannot properly process the glucose in the bloodstream, blood sugar levels can spike or drop in dangerous degrees. These fluctuations make for a toxic environment for the body’s cells. This is the way in which important hearing cells are damaged due to diabetes-related complications.
The cells within our inner ear are fundamental to healthy hearing. They are responsible for receiving noise from the outside world and turning it into sound information to be transmitted to the brain. They are delicate and non-regenerative, which means that they do not repair themselves if they’ve been damaged. They also do not repopulate when the cells are lost. When fewer cells exist to participate in the process, less sound information reaches the brain and we experience this as hearing loss.
Early signs of hearing loss
The first signs of hearing loss can be extremely subtle and your friends or family will likely notice changes in your behavior before you are aware that hearing loss is at play. Most often, we lose high-frequency sound first, so that people’s speech seems garbled or as though they are mumbling. You may develop a habit of asking people to repeat themselves over and over or you might begin to avoid unnecessary conversations altogether. Pay attention to the volume levels on your televisions and personal devices. As hearing loss progresses, even dialogue in television programs and films becomes hard to decode.
Why you should fast track a hearing exam
Whether or not you are also living with diabetes, scheduling a hearing test is an important part of prioritizing your hearing health. Most people are more likely to have had a recent eye exam or even a colonoscopy than having undergone a simple hearing test within the past five years.
The odds are that it’s been a minute since you last had your hearing checked, and that means you’re due for an exam. While there is no cure for hearing loss, there are proven interventions that can help you regain a more comfortable and fulfilling listening life. Our team of hearing health professionals are ready to lead you through the easy process of a hearing exam. Once we have your results, we can begin to explore better hearing health behaviors or even hearing solutions together.