Have you felt more tired than normal recently? Does your vision ever get blurry? Do you feel constantly thirsty? This may signal it is time to get screened for diabetes, a serious condition that affects, 463 million people worldwide. In the US it is estimated that it affects 10.3 percent of the population. This and every November is National Diabetes Month, a time to increase awareness and action around this devastating condition. Undiagnosed or unaddressed hearing loss may cause devastating complications, including heart disease, nerve damage, blindness, kidney failure, and amputations. Now, it is becoming widely accepted that this chronic condition significantly increases the risk of hearing loss as well.
What is Diabetes?
To understand how diabetes affects your body, it’s important to understand what it is. Diabetes occurs when your body cannot make or effectively use its own insulin. Insulin is a hormone made in the pancreas which is essential to the ability of your cells to absorb sugars from the foods you eat and convert them into energy. This can cause damage cells and nerves throughout the body. There are several types of diabetes, however. About 90% of people with diabetes have type 2.
The Importance of Screening
Even more alarming are the high numbers of people who suffer from prediabetes – a precursor to this widespread health issue. Those with prediabetes have blood sugar levels that are high enough to put them at risk for developing diabetes in the near future. The CDC projects that more than 1 in 3 U.S. adults have prediabetes or (88 million people) However, 50% don’t even know they have it. Therefore, National Diabetes Month stresses the importance of early screenings. It is recommended that once you reach the age of 45 you should be checked every five years. However, if you have added risk factors such as family history, weight issues, or live a sedentary lifestyle you should be tested more frequently.
The Diabetes-Hearing Loss Connection
48 million people in the US complain about hearing loss. However, for those with diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is double. Researchers believe this could be caused by the nature of diabetes affect on cells. While we hear with our ears we listen with our brain. Tiny hair-like cells called stereocilia transmit sound from our inner ear to our brains to be processed. When diabetes is not kept under control, it can constrict and damage the small blood vessels which support the stereocilia and other important structures of the inner ear. Other parts of your body have the option to adapt and accommodate for damage to blood vessels, with b alternative blood supplies, however, your ears are not as adaptable. The effect is permanent hearing loss.
Studies of Diabetes and Hearing Loss
A study published in the journal of Otology and Neurotology examine how diabetes affected the ears and hearing and discovered that diabetes is related to hearing loss at all sound registers. Yuri Agrawal, MD, assistant professor of otolaryngology at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore explains “There’s no redundancy in the blood supply to the inner ear”. Agrawal and colleagues recorded the hearing and health information from 3,527 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999 and 2002. The researchers found that there was a far greater risk to the hearing of patients who suffered from diabetes. They found that the higher the level of blood sugar, the greater the risk of hearing loss. Once a blood vessel within the inner ear is damaged there is no other way for it to receive blood. People report loss of tones, pitches, and consonants which becomes worse, the longer diabetes progresses.
Preventing Diabetes-Related Hearing Loss
Many factors can affect your hearing and managing your diabetes is just one. Even so, controlling your blood sugar level can help you maintain health at many levels. Make sure to eat a healthy diet free of processed sugar, exercise regularly, avoid smoking and keep track of your blood sugar levels.
Agrawal emphasizes: “Hearing should be considered a diabetes-related complication.” If you suspect you have a hearing loss, contact us today to schedule a hearing test! We’re here to help and we look forward to seeing you this American Diabetes Month!