diabetes and hearing loss; ear over green background

Diabetes and Hearing Loss: What You Need to Know

Diabetes can severely affect the heart, eyes, and kidneys, but it can also affect your hearing if blood sugar levels are not properly controlled. Although the link between diabetes and hearing loss isn’t entirely clear to scientists, the correlation between the two is very strong and something of which everyone with high blood sugar should be aware.

Studies of diabetes and hearing loss

A 2008 study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that participants with diabetes were twice as likely to have mild to moderate hearing loss compared to those without diabetes. Of the participants, 54 percent of those experienced diabetes and hearing loss, while only 32 percent with normal blood sugar levels had hearing loss.

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism supported these findings with a 2012 study in which researchers analyzed data from 13 previous studies on diabetes and hearing loss. With more than 20,000 combined participants, the researchers concluded that people with diabetes are more likely to have hearing loss regardless of their age.


How diabetes leads to hearing loss

Scientists have not yet reached a consensus to determine exactly how diabetes could lead to hearing loss. However, it’s widely suspected that diabetes damages the ears in similar ways the disease damages other parts of the body–by damaging tiny blood vessels.

Poor hearing often comes down to damage of the hair inside your ears. These hairs rely on good circulation to stay healthy, and diabetes is notorious for decreasing a person’s circulation. These hairs translate noise by collecting external sounds, converting them into electrical impulses, and sending them to the auditory nerve in the brain to be converted into sounds you can process. Once these hairs are damaged through diabetes or some other way, they do not heal or regenerate.

Signs of hearing loss

Signs of hearing loss:

  • Frequently asking people to repeat themselves
  • Difficulty following group conversations
  • Feeling like people are mumbling when speaking to you
  • Trouble hearing in noisy places like restaurants or coffee shops
  • Difficulty hearing high-pitched voices
  • Listening to music or TV too loudly for those around you

Ways to protect your hearing

There are several ways to protect your hearing if you have diabetes. One way to protect your hearing is to avoid situations with excessive noise. If you go to a concert or other excessively loud venue, wear earplugs and don’t sit or stand near the speakers. You will still be able to enjoy the music without causing further damage to your hearing.

Another way to protect your hearing is to exercise regularly. This moves blood throughout the body, improves circulation, and clears out excess sugar built up within the arteries.

To further protect your hearing, avoid putting anything into your ears (including q-tips), avoid extremely loud noises, and have your doctor check your hearing on a regular basis.