Diabetes and hearing loss are common comorbidities. In fact, you’re twice as likely to experience hearing loss if you have diabetes.
How Diabetes Impacts Your Ears
Hearing loss: High blood sugar damages blood vessels in your inner ear, while low blood sugar affects how nerve signals travel from your ears to your brain. Your inner ear’s nerves, or cilia, require good circulation to function properly. Diabetes negatively impacts circulation to your ear, causing the cilia to sustain permanent damage or die.
Tinnitus: This condition is characterized by ringing, humming or buzzing in your ears. It’s a common hearing loss symptom associated with damage to the ear’s blood vessels.
Ear infections: High blood sugar and poor circulation can result in more frequent infections. Diabetes also makes earwax less acidic, making it less effective at combatting bacteria. Poor circulation may create outer ear itchiness and dryness as well.
Imbalance: Your inner ear houses the vestibular system, which helps you maintain your balance. Because diabetes affects the nerves and blood flow to your inner ear, you may find yourself struggling to stay balanced. That increases your risk of fall-related injuries.
When You Should See an Audiologist
It’s important to visit an audiologist as soon as possible if you suspect you have hearing issues. You may not realize you have hearing loss at first. It’s not unusual for your family and friends to notice your hearing loss before you.
Common signs of hearing loss include:
- Trouble keeping up with group conversations
- Frequently asking others to repeat themselves
- Turning up the TV or radio to an excessive volume
- Struggling to hear phone conversations
The Importance of Treating Hearing Loss
Untreated hearing loss increases your risk of auditory deprivation, making it difficult for your brain to process sound stimuli even if you wear hearing aids. You may also increase your likelihood of developing depression, isolation and social withdrawal if you don’t address your hearing loss.
Your brain requires constant activity to stay healthy. Living with untreated hearing loss deprives your brain’s auditory cortex of the proper stimulation to process sounds. Eventually, your brain will rewire itself to compensate for the loss of function, which can increase your cognitive load and risk of dementia.
How to Manage Your Diabetes and Protect Your Hearing
- Schedule a yearly hearing evaluation with your audiologist to monitor your hearing health.
- Ask your primary physician about setting health goals for your A1C, blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Eliminate tobacco consumption to avoid diabetes complications and further hearing damage.
- Provide a complete list of medications for your audiologist, as some are ototoxic and affect the ear.
- Avoid loud noises and wear hearing protection in noisy environments.