Have you heard of this complication of diabetes? How well your blood glucose is controlled may impact your hearing – permanently.
Just like the damage to the tiny blood vessels in your body from consistently higher blood sugar levels can impact organs such as your eyes and kidneys, your ears can be impacted as well.
"Diabetes causes damage to blood vessels, and some blood vessels are prone to damage quicker," explains Kartike Gulati, DO, a fellowship-trained otolaryngologist at Franciscan Physician Network in Munster, Indiana. "There are two areas – the main artery to inner ear and the small capillaries in the inner ear – that if damaged, the whole inner ear function will eventually decline."
Decline in hearing isn't the only impact that poor diabetes control can have on your hearing. More immediately, people with diabetes are more prone to ear infections, Dr. Gulati said.
"An issue with diabetes is the poor blood flow makes you prone to ear infections," he said. "If you begin to have problems with ear infections as a diabetic, more aggressive treatments may be needed. Chronic ear infections may eventually require surgeries involving the ear."
Hearing loss is twice as common in people who have diabetes and 30% higher in people with prediabetes, compared with those adults who have normal blood glucose levels, research says.
"Hearing loss is a multi-factorial problem sometimes involving genetics along with environmental factors," Dr. Gulati said. "Diabetes is an overlooked environmental factor affecting the hearing. Other factors may also include noise exposure and atherosclerotic disease."
To help reduce the risk of hearing loss from damage to the blood vessels, stick to your diabetes treatment plan as directed by your healthcare provider. Note the ABCs of diabetes:
Additionally, using hearing protection when you have exposure to high decibel noise will reduce risk of environmentally induced hearing problems.
Symptoms of hearing loss can occur gradually. These changes may include:
"Diabetes usually causes a slow decline in hearing which is generally not reversible," though treatment options such as hearing aids and cochlear implants are available, Dr. Gulati said.
Dr. Gulati cautions against putting off having your hearing evaluated.
“These are silent but serious problems,” he said. “Hearing loss is not just a quality of life issue. If you have poor quality life from one’s inability to hear, you’re at greater risk for mental and cognitive decline. You need to stay in touch with your hearing.”