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Q: Is there a link between diabetes and hearing loss? If so, how can I prevent losing my hearing as a diabetic?

A: Researchers have questioned the link between diabetes and hearing loss since the 1960s. Nearly 26 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and an estimated 34.5 million have some type of hearing loss. A study conducted by National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2008 confirmed that hearing loss is twice as common in adults with diabetes than in those who do not have diabetes.

In patients with diabetes, uncontrolled glucose levels can cause a variety of problems. Low blood glucose levels are an immediate threat to those with diabetes and can lead to confusion, loss of consciousness and seizures. High blood glucose levels do not pose immediate danger, but can damage eyes, kidneys, feet, heart, nerves AND ears. In relation to the ears, high blood glucose impairs the function of the nerve pathways to the ears damaging the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear. Over time, this leads to hearing loss.

Hearing loss is seen in adults as young as 30 to 40 years old with diabetes. Hearing loss may not be completely avoidable as there are many other risk factors that can cause hearing loss. Age, noise exposure, and genetics are a few of the most common causes. However, if you have diabetes, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and keeping your blood glucose levels in check will help to prevent or delay some diabetes problems, including hearing loss.

If you find yourself straining to understand, feel like speech is muffled, or have difficulty understanding in background noise, it is time to get your hearing tested. Your primary care doctor may be able to offer you a hearing screening or you can see an audiologist for a diagnostic hearing test. You can also take an online hearing check at www.betterhearing.org and click on “BHI Quick Hearing Check”. People with hearing loss who choose to wear hearing aids report an increased sense of happiness, improved relationships, and overall wellbeing, so don’t delay if you think you have a problem!

Nicole Wasel, Au.D., CCC-A
Clinical Audiologist
Washington Ear, Nose and Throat
(724) 225-8995

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