How Does Diabetes Affect Your Hearing?

The symptoms of diabetes are many and include fatigue, weight loss, thirst, and frequent urination. Early detection of diabetes is important because some of these symptoms may be irreversible if the disease progresses without diagnosis and treatment.

The National Institute of Health has recently linked diabetes to hearing loss. A comprehensive study by the NIH found that people diagnosed with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from some degree of hearing loss. The cause has not yet been determined but is probably due to decreased nerve stimulation and blood flow in the inner ear.

Diabetes and Blood Flow

The problems associated with abnormal glucose levels in the blood have been well documented. Diabetics experience a range of symptoms caused by high or low sugar levels in the bloodstream. The liver does not function properly, the body’s cells do not receive a good balance of nutrition, and the nerves are affected because of the chemical changes in the fluids that coat the nerve endings.

It has been suggested by medical professionals that abnormal sugar levels in the bloodstream also cause problems in the capillaries and the tissue that surrounds them. When sensitive tissue begins to break down or mutate because of malnutrition at the cellular level, nerve endings are also affected and can become less likely to fire properly.

Hearing Loss Associated With Diabetes

The inner ear is a complex structure designed to carry energy impulses along a canal lined with tiny fibers. The bones of the middle ear amplify sound waves focused by the pounding of the eardrum. The vibrations travel through a fluid in the cochlea and cause tiny hairs to vibrate.

These hairs are attached to tissue surrounded by blood vessels and nerve endings. The blood carries nutrients to the tissue, and the nerve endings carry information to the auditory nerve and on to the brain.

Studies on the relationship between diabetes and hearing loss are still ongoing but point to tissue damage in the inner ear as the probable cause of hearing loss among diabetics. The tissue that supports the miniscule hair fibers is mutated to some extent, causing a disruption in signals to the nerve endings that carry information to the brain.

This type of defect is known as sensorineural hearing loss. Higher frequency sound waves are often not detected by the auditory nerve, meaning that high-pitched sounds are much more difficult for the brain to process.

Treatment Options

Early diagnosis of diabetes is important because the disease causes a progressively degenerative condition in various parts of the body. Hearing loss is likely to become more pronounced unless the individual is put on a treatment program. Hearing loss due to damaged tissue is often permanent, but the diabetic can avoid further degeneration of the inner ear tissue by following the prescribed treatment.

The hearing loss associated with diabetes can be treated using a hearing aid device. Several manufacturers offer models that are specifically designed to aid those suffering from sensorineural hearing problems. These hearing aids amplify high-frequency waves, making it easier for the energy to stimulate nerve endings.

Most importantly, those who experience loss of energy, general fatigue, or frequent urination are urged to have a hearing test performed in addition to a complete physical. Hearing loss is now being considered one of the prime symptoms of diabetes and will often help the medical professional in making a confirmed diagnosis.

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This article was contributed by Jason Nelson on behalf of Nilsson Hearing Center, St. George hearing aid specialists, offering a wide range of hearing care solutions.

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