Hearing loss is connected to a wide range of other health conditions, and the relationships between them are quite varied. In some cases, that other health condition directly causes hearing loss. Such is the case with cardiovascular disease. The current knowledge about the connection between these conditions suggests that depleted blood flow to the inner ear causes damage to hearing ability. In other cases, hearing loss seems to have a direct cause on other health outcomes.
For instance, when a person has reduced communication ability due to hearing loss, it can lead to a higher risk of dementia. The brain needs to have ample stimulus to remain healthy and agile, and hearing loss can deprive the brain of that linguistic information it needs to stay active. In some other cases, the relationship between hearing loss and another condition seems to be mediated by a third factor.
Such is the case with diabetes. Researchers are continuing to explore this connection, but the statistics are clear. Those with diabetes have double the rate of hearing loss as those without diabetes. Even those with pre-diabetes are at higher risk. Those 88 million Americans with pre-diabetes have a 30 percent higher rate of hearing loss than those who do not have elevated blood glucose levels.
With these statistics in mind, we are more interested than ever to understand how hearing loss connects with diabetes within the body. This November is American Diabetes Month, and what better opportunity to not only explore how these conditions are connected but also to take action and get a hearing test for yourself and your loved ones.
Hearing Loss and Diabetes
When a person has diabetes, it sets off a chain reaction in the body. Each organ and system of the body is connected to the rest through a tight web of inter-relations. In the case of diabetes, it is a condition related to blood sugar. On its own, you might see how elevated blood sugar levels would affect hearing, and yet, only a few steps separate blood sugar from hearing ability. When blood sugar levels are elevated, they can have a number of powerful effects on the body. In the first instance, high blood glucose can harm the blood vessels. If the tiny blood vessels near the inner ear are damaged, they cannot deliver the flow of oxygenated blood that the ears need to be able to hear. In another way, high blood glucose can limit the amount of oxygen and other nutrients that the inner ears need to do their work. The tiny hairlike organelles of the inner ear called stereocilia are very sensitive. That sensitivity makes it possible to detect slight differences in the frequency, volume, and timbre of sound. However, that sensitivity also makes them prone to damage from slight variations in what they need to function. When blood glucose levels are too high, it is possible that oxygen levels are sacrificed, and that limitation on blood oxygen might be enough to cause some of the stereocilia to break down.
This November, why not honor American Diabetes Month through a proactive step. When you get your hearing tested, you will be setting yourself up to receive the treatment you need when the time is right.
Hearing tests are easy, painless, and simple to complete. In many cases they are very quick, especially the most common test which is called pure tone audiometry. This test produces a range of sounds, varying in pitch and volume. When these tones are played, you are simply asked to gesture whether or not you hear something. This test results in a diagnosis of the types of sound you can and cannot hear, and your hearing health professional will read the audiogram to determine what type of assistance you might need.
If no assistance is needed, you will have a solid baseline for future testing. If you do need to receive treatment for hearing loss, this test will be a perfect opportunity to take the next step toward getting the help you need. If you have someone in your family who would benefit from a hearing test, don’t miss the opportunity of American Diabetes Month to encourage testing!