November is American Diabetes Month. This national campaign focuses on raising awareness of diabetes and ways you can protect your health. Over 34 million people have diabetes, a life-long medical condition that impacts how the body produces energy from food. Research shows that people with diabetes, and also people who are prediabetic, experience a higher risk of also developing hearing loss.
Studies show that people with diabetes can be twice as likely to experience hearing loss, a chronic condition that nearly 48 million people live with. If you have diabetes, it is incredibly important to be proactive about your hearing health. This month is a great time to schedule an appointment for a hearing test!
Impact of Diabetes on Hearing
Research has established a link between diabetes and hearing loss. Studies reveal that diabetes can impact the auditory system – the sensory system that includes the ears and brain which work together to absorb, process, and understand sound.
One major study that highlights this correlation was conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health. Published in 2008, the study involved researchers analyzing data from a survey that provided information from over 11,000 participants (ages 20-69). This data included results from hearing tests and responses from a questionnaire about diabetes. Researchers found that among people with diabetes:
- 54% had high-frequency hearing loss compared to 32% of people without diabetes.
- 21% had mid-frequency hearing loss compared to 9% of people without diabetes.
These findings underscore a significant correlation between both chronic conditions. In exploring how this correlation is possible, experts point to the impact of diabetes on blood vessels.
Diabetes is a condition that can damage blood vessels throughout the body and researchers suggest that this could include the blood vessels in the inner ear. The inner ear houses thousands of hair cells that help convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain to be further processed and assigned meaning to. If blood vessels are damaged, the inner ear could experience challenges performing this function, leading to hearing loss.
Know the Signs of Hearing Loss
Being able to identify the signs of hearing loss can help you address any changes to your hearing health early. Early intervention can drastically help transform your hearing and help protect your health. Hearing loss reduces the capacity to hear and process sound, producing various symptoms that strain communication. Common symptoms include the following:
- Tinnitus: often referred to as ringing of the ears, is a buzzing or ringing-like noise that is heard in one or both ears when no noise is actually present in your environment.
- Sounds are slurred, distorted, or muffled.
- Turning up the volume on electronic devices like the TV, phone, speaker, etc.
- Asking others to repeat themselves, speak louder, or slower.
- Difficulty identifying individual words and following a conversation.
- Missing words that someone said, experiencing miscommunication, or not hearing something correctly.
- Struggling to hear in environments with background noise or during conversations with multiple people.
- Lip reading to help with distinguishing words.
Depending on the degree of hearing loss (mild to profound), these symptoms can be experienced consistently. This prevents people from participating fully in conversations which can produce stress, social withdrawal, and take a toll on relationships. If you recognize any of these signs, it is critical to have your hearing assessed and treated.
Tips to Protect Hearing Health
There are numerous ways you can protect your hearing health. Practicing safety measures can reduce your risk of developing hearing loss. Tips include:
- Have a hearing test. One of the best ways to take care of your hearing health is to have your hearing assessed regularly. Hearing tests measure hearing capacity in both ears using a painless process. This identifies any hearing loss and allows a hearing healthcare specialist to recommend effective treatment options to meet hearing needs.
- Reduce exposure to loud noise. A common cause of hearing loss is one-time or consistent exposure to loud noise. Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear which are critical for processing sound. A useful way to protect your hearing is to reduce your exposure to loud noise. You can do this in several ways including maintaining lower volume settings on electronic devices, avoiding environments that are noisier, and wearing hearing protection.
- Wear hearing protection. Protective wear for your ears includes headphones, earmuffs, earbuds, etc. which reduce the amount and impact of loud noise you absorb.
American Diabetes Month is a great reminder to prioritize your health. Get started today by calling us to schedule an appointment for a hearing test!