Having any type of diabetes places you at greater risk of developing complications, including hearing loss.
Diabetes that is not well-managed can lead to many health concerns, and hearing problems can develop gradually over time.
Here, we will explain how hearing works, how diabetes affects your body and ability to hear, and what you can do to protect your hearing.
How Does Hearing Work?
Your ear has three parts: the outer ear, middle ear, and inner ear.
These structures must work together to transform sound waves into electrical signals and deliver them to the brain to be interpreted as the sounds we hear.
When one of these parts becomes damaged, we experience hearing loss.
What Causes Hearing Loss?
You can lose your hearing due to accidents or simply due to age.
A hearing loss can be sudden or the result of long-term exposure to loud noise.
The most common causes of hearing loss are:
- Loud noise and long-term noise exposure
- Age-related hearing loss (presbycusis)
- Trauma or injury
- Diseases and infections
Certain risk factors make you more likely to lose your hearing, and being a diabetic is one of those factors.
What Is Diabetes?
Your body changes the foods you eat into glucose.
That glucose stays in your bloodstream until your pancreas releases insulin, a hormone that helps remove glucose from the bloodstream and carry it to cells that need it for energy.
Diabetes is a condition wherein your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or isn’t able to use the insulin the pancreas produces effectively. Diabetes can lead to side effects that negatively impact your health.
Side Effects of Diabetes
Long-term, all types of diabetes have side effects that can negatively impact your health. Some common diabetes complications can include:
- High blood sugar levels
- Increased risk of heart disease
- Kidney disease
- Unhealthy cholesterol levels
- Eye damage
- Skin and foot damage
- Nerve damage
- Blood vessel damage
- Hearing loss
Avoiding these health pitfalls means getting proper diabetes education from your primary care provider and following their guidance to protect your health and regulate your blood glucose levels.
What Is the Link Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss?
Someone with diabetes needs to make regulating their blood sugar a priority. Over time, unregulated blood sugar can negatively impact your hearing health.
Low Blood Sugar
The auditory nerve can become damaged when blood sugar levels are too low. The auditory nerve carries electrical signals to the brain. If that connection is lost, you can develop hearing loss.
High Blood Sugar
Having blood sugar levels that are too high can impact the small blood vessels and tiny hair cells in the inner ear. These hair cells cannot regenerate, so you may permanently lose a portion of your hearing when they become damaged.
Damage to the blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear affects how the inner ear changes sound waves to electrical signals and can cause you to experience hearing loss.
If you have type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes, your risk of developing hearing loss is twice as likely as someone who doesn’t have diabetes. Even someone who has prediabetes — a condition where the body has become slightly insulin resistant but average blood sugar levels are not yet within type 2 diabetes range — is 30 percent more likely to develop hearing loss than someone with healthy, regulated blood sugar levels.
What Are the Types of Hearing Loss?
There are two types of hearing loss, each classified by the part of the ear that becomes damaged and non-functioning.
Conductive Hearing Loss
If the outer or middle ear structures become damaged, resulting in a loss of hearing, you are said to have conductive hearing loss. Conductive hearing loss usually happens due to an injury or a blockage in the ear canal, such as a buildup of earwax.
Sensorineural Hearing Loss
When the structures in the inner ear are damaged, your hearing impairment is sensorineural, like hearing loss that results from nerve and blood vessel damage from diabetes.
What Are the Signs of Hearing Loss?
Hearing loss from diabetes can happen over time, and recognizing the symptoms is key to early intervention and preserving the hearing you have left.
Symptoms of hearing loss may include:
- Asking others to repeat themselves or speak up
- Turning the volume up on the radio and television
- Trouble understanding someone when they speak — it may seem like people are mumbling, and you may have trouble hearing certain consonants like F, S, and H at higher frequencies
- Feeling distracted when there is background noise, like in a restaurant or cafe
- Avoiding social situations
- Feeling depressed and isolated
Losing your ability to hear and communicate with others can negatively impact your quality of life. Finding a solution that works will help you stay active and can mean the difference between losing your hearing and keeping it.
How Is Hearing Loss Diagnosed?
Determining whether or not you have lost your hearing requires a visit to an audiologist. This hearing professional can administer a hearing test to determine whether or not you have lost the ability to hear certain decibels.
In the field of audiology, your degree of hearing loss is determined by the decibels you can no longer hear. For instance, a person with normal hearing can hear sounds between -15 and 20 decibels. A person experiencing profound hearing loss or deafness can no longer hear sounds until they are at least 91 decibels.
What Are Treatment Options for Hearing Loss Due to Diabetes?
Even though there is a higher rate of hearing loss among people with diabetes, there is no shortage of treatment options to help you regain your hearing. However, the first step in any hearing loss treatment plan is always prevention.
You’ll need to work with your health care provider to determine the best way to regulate your blood glucose levels. This may include diet and exercise changes or medications that help regulate blood sugar.
In addition, you can protect your remaining hearing by wearing hearing protection or earplugs when you are exposed to loud noise or when you’ll be in a noisy environment. Ensuring that your audio devices like earbuds or headphones are below 70 decibels will protect your hearing.
One of the most popular solutions for diabetic patients who are hard of hearing is hearing aids. Many hearing aids are very low-profile and barely visible when worn.
If your hearing loss is severe, your healthcare professional may suggest cochlear implants. These bypass the damaged portions of the inner ear and deliver electrical signals directly to the auditory nerve.
Proper diabetes care means ensuring your blood sugar levels are within a healthy range. Taking care of yourself and getting regular hearing tests is key to ensuring your diabetes does not interfere with your ability to hear and communicate with others.
If you lose your hearing due to diabetes, talk to your audiologist. Treatment options are available to help you regain your hearing and enjoy the same quality of life you love.
References, Studies and Sources:
Diabetes – Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic
Diabetes and Hearing Loss|Centers for Disease Control and Prevention | CDC.gov
Diabetes and Hearing Loss | American Diabetes Association.org
Fact Checked and Editorial Process
Diabetic.org is devoted to producing expert and accurate articles and information for our readers by hiring experts, journalists, medical professionals, and our growing Diabetic.org community. We encourage you to read more about our content, editing, and fact checking methods here. This was fact checked by Erik Rivera and medically reviewed by Dr. Angel Rivera.
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