Excerpt From: Diabetic Living
A Surprising Complication
Research shows that people with uncontrolled type 1 or type 2 diabetes are twice as likely as others to experience hearing loss. In a large study of people ages 20–69, researchers from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases found a strong association between diabetes and hearing problems, emerging as early as age 30.
“When you think about complications of diabetes, this is not what you think about,” says Joanne Rinker, RD, CDE, with the North Carolina Diabetes Prevention and Control Branch. “But one in three people with diabetes will have trouble with their hearing because of complications from their elevated blood glucose.”
How Diabetes Hurts Your Hearing
Diabetes seems to affect hearing in several ways. When blood sugar rises, “there is a breakdown of nerves in the ears -- the same kind of nerve damage that causes tingling and other symptoms in the fingertips and toes,” Rinker says. What’s more, the blood vessels in the ears are very small. “When blood sugar is high, blood running through the veins is like syrup,” she says. “Imagine how hard it is to get into the tiny capillaries of the cochlea -- that can contribute to the hearing problems.”
In addition, “our hearing mechanisms rely on specialized cells called hair cells,” says Elizabeth A. Dinces, M.D., assistant professor of otolaryngology at Montefiore Medical Center in Bronx, New York. “They are very fragile and susceptible to changes in the environment, including the effect of increased glucose in blood.”
No diabetes complication is desirable, but Yaremchuk says hearing loss can be particularly insidious. “If you can’t hear, you don’t know what you’re missing,” she says. People who experience hearing loss can become isolated from others and less involved. “They stop being included in conversation and withdraw,” she says. Depression can soon follow. Other research suggests that hearing loss also increases the risk for dementia because it reduces stimuli from the environment that keeps the brain healthy.
Protect Your Ears from Diabetes Complications
The best way to protect your hearing from damage due to diabetes is to maintain good control of your blood sugar. That includes taking your medications, eating a healthful diet, controlling portions, and making exercise a part of every day. “Glycemic control has known overall benefits for patients, including hearing,” Dinces says.