The Link between Diabetes and Hearing Loss

A young lady testing her blood sugar levels for diabetes.

A young lady testing her blood sugar levels for diabetes.

When Lisa was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 2012, she knew she’d have to watch for certain things: she might develop cataracts or glaucoma; nerve damage could lead to numbness, particularly in her hands and feet; and she was now at higher risk for heart and kidney disease. What Lisa didn’t know, and her endocrinologist didn’t think about, is that diabetes may cause hearing loss.

Lisa didn’t make the connection; the people around her were the ones who noticed and commented. When Lisa and her coworkers went for their daily lunchtime walk, she often had to ask them to repeat what they’d said. Her daughter commented on the loud volume of the television when she stopped by one evening. And Lisa began to prefer quiet coffee shops to popular restaurants because she just couldn’t keep up with the conversation in the busier spaces.

Even though she was only in her 40s, it made her feel old to keep asking others to repeat themselves. After a while it was more comfortable to avoid those situations, so she stopped going for walks with her friends at lunch. Instead Lisa sat alone in her car while she ate a quick drive-thru lunch. It made her sad, and a little angry; wasn’t having diabetes enough? Why did she have to lose her hearing too?

Unfortunately for Lisa, her frustration wasn’t making anything better. Every part of your body is connected and when one part isn’t working well it can be a vicious cycle. When diabetes affects hearing, hearing loss can lead to depression, depression can lead to worry and anxiety, and that can result in less physical and social activity – and more emotional eating.

Medical Research on Diabetes

Recent studies show that people with diabetes are twice as likely to have some level of hearing loss compared to people without the disease. And almost one in three people with pre-diabetes – meaning they have elevated blood glucose levels but are not officially diabetic – have some loss of hearing.

Diabetes as well as Hearing Loss can affect people of any age.

Diabetes as well as Hearing Loss can affect people of any age.

Why would one affect the other? Researchers aren’t entirely sure, and more research is necessary to determine the link between diabetes and hearing loss. Diabetes causes damage to the nervous system and to blood vessels  both of which play an important part in hearing. And high blood pressure, which is another consequence of diabetes, seems to make hearing loss worse.

To add insult to injury, diabetes-related hearing loss seems to affect people who are too young to experience age-related hearing loss. Most of us start to have some level of loss around the age of 45 or 50 simply due to aging. But those with diabetes often see loss sooner than that ripe old age.

If you have diabetes, or are close to someone who does, there are things you can watch for:

•    Turning up the volume on the radio or television.

•    Asking others to repeat what they say.

•    Having a hard time following conversations when more than one person is talking.

•    Avoiding activities with others in busy environments.

There’s no cure for diabetes but there are solutions to help make hearing easier and life fun again. If you or someone you know has diabetes, ask your primary care physician to recommend a hearing test or exam, or make an appointment on your own.

This is a guest article and was posted by ASI Audiology & Hearing Instruments, an audiology practice with 16 locations in Iowa (Major locations include West Des Moines, Red Oak, Council Bluffs, and Creston) specializing in hearing aids, tests for hearing loss, and hearing protection.

Last Updated: 9/21/2016