older man, hearing loss
Diabetes
Hearing Loss

Is Your Hearing Loss a Symptom of Diabetes?

We face so many concerns as we age, especially when it comes to our health. It seems like the media reminds us every day to worry about what we eat, how often we exercise, and what symptoms should send us running to our doctor’s office. It’s not surprising so many of us neglect our hearing ―after all, hearing loss is hardly a major concern compared to all the other health risks demanding our attention, right? Except that researchers have discovered hearing loss is often an early warning sign of more serious diseases, including an all-too-common threat in the U.S.―diabetes.

The canary in the coal mine

Diabetes, particularly the Type 2 variety that tends to develop later in life, rarely strikes without early warning signs. These include receiving a diagnosis of “pre-diabetes.” Approximately86 million U.S. adults are estimated to be pre-diabetic―they have higher-than-normal blood sugar (glucose) levels but have not yet exceeded the threshold of full-blown diabetes. Pre-diabetics are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, and are also at higher risk of stroke and cardiovascular disease. However, by making dietary and lifestyle changes, they can often avoid the onset of full diabetes.

Changing course and making life-saving improvements often starts with a diagnosis of pre-diabetes. Recognizing the symptoms of this condition is the key to accurate diagnosis. They include:

  • Itchy skin that doesn’t respond to creams or other standard remedies
  • Excessive thirst and/or hunger
  • Blurred vision
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Fatigue

Another early indicator may be hearing loss. The likelihood of a pre-diabetic patient having hearing loss is about 30 percent higher than in people who don’t have the condition.  Researchers believe the culprit is high levels of blood sugar that cause damage to nerves and blood vessels, including those found in your cochlea (inner ear). Since these nerves (hair cells) are so delicate and depend on a healthy supply of blood for survival, they are often the first parts of the body to be damaged by vascular problems. Without these hair cells to transmit sound waves to your brain, you develop hearing loss. This is why hearing loss is considered an early warning sign of diabetes and other cardiovascular issues, and shouldn’t be dismissed out-of-hand as a normal part of aging.

Hearing loss doesn’t always show up first

The flip side of this coin is that if you’ve already been diagnosed with diabetes, you should pay extra attention to your hearing health, as you are more likely to develop hearing loss, even if you haven’t experienced any difficulties so far.Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes as in those with healthy blood sugar levels. It’s recommended that diabetics have their hearing tested annually, in order to catch any degeneration as early as possible. It’s also a good idea to avoid additional factors that can contribute to hearing loss, such as excessive noise exposure (e.g., listening to excessively loud music or working with power tools without wearing hearing protection).

Ignoring hearing loss doesn’t make it― or diabetes―go away

Don’t neglect your hearing loss because you think it is a minor condition, especially when compared to health concerns like diabetes. Hearing itself is a valuable sense that enables you to fully enjoy life―listening to music, conversing with friends, and laughing at jokes with family. But it’s even more important that you recognize hearing loss can be a leading indicator of a more worrisome illness.

The sooner you receive an accurate diagnosis and begin making changes to either prevent or manage diabetes, the better off you’ll be. And if you have diabetes, talk to your physician about getting a referral to a hearing care professional who can test your hearing each year and let you know if it is time to consider a pair of hearing aids.