It is not uncommon for hearing loss and health problems to go hand in hand. On the face of it this may seem obvious but even though we may readily acknowledge this fact, we don’t automatically link specific diseases to hearing loss or recognise that we may have a hearing loss. It is thought that approximately 1 in 6 Australians have a hearing loss and the health causes of hearing loss are still being researched. Furthermore, recent studies have shown that, diabetes, a prevalent health condition which is on the rise, may be linked to hearing loss. Approximately 1.7 million Australians have diabetes (www.diabetesaustralia, 2018), and studies recognize that “As diabetes becomes more common, the disease may become a more significant contributor to hearing loss.” (Dr Catherine Cowie NIH, 2008). Cowie also identified that the likelihood of adults with diabetes having a hearing loss doubled. This finding is also supported by various other studies all of which have indicated that hearing loss is in fact twice as likely to occur with the disease, diabetes.
What is the Connection?
The precise link between hearing loss and diabetes is not yet fully understood, however, it is thought that having a high blood sugar level seems to increase the likelihood of developing hearing loss by as much as 30% (Dr Catherine Cowie NIH, 2008). This finding pertains to anyone who is either diabetic or in the process of developing the disease. It is not clear why this is the case, however, the most likely hypothesis considers what is already known about the damaging effect of having high blood glucose levels. When this happens the sugar or glucose levels become toxic. This glucotoxicity begins to break down different parts of your body’s organs including your nerves, arteries and blood vessels. The body’s healing reaction to fight this breakdown is to form plaque which can build up in your arteries. Of all the organs in your body, your kidneys are the most vulnerable to the effects of glucotoxicity. This is because your kidneys have to work extra hard to remove the glucose from your blood. The excess of glucose gradually destroys the kidney’s, which leads to dialysis. How all this relates to your hearing is still being researched, however, since the glucotoxicity effect from high blood sugar levels is known to damage blood vessels, nerves, arteries and organs, it is thought that this must therefore almost certainly apply to the blood vessels of the organ of hearing, known as the cochlear or inner ear; damaging the vessels and nerves and the nerve pathway from the inner ear to the brain (Lorenzi, 1992). The link between hearing loss and diabetes is clearly present and how this affects the hearing is also still being researched. However, studies around the world in Brazil, the United States of America, Australia and Asia have all had supporting results to strongly suggest that there is a very strong association between diabetes and hearing loss.
Know the signs
It is important to arm yourself with a good knowledge of the disease if you are either a diabetic, or if you think that you may be pre-diabetic. If this is the case, it is important to understand that you may be at risk of hearing loss as a complicating factor of diabetes disease. In particular, there seems to be an increased risk of high frequency hearing loss (Vasilyeva et al, 2009). If you have not already done so, book an appointment with your audiologist. If you have never had a hearing test, or only recently been diagnosed with diabetes, or are pre-diabetic, it is very important to establish a base-line of your hearing, so that your hearing can be monitored over time. Make sure that you have regular hearing tests so that your audiologist can tell you if there are any changes in your hearing thresholds. This is very necessary so that, should you start to develop a hearing loss, your audiologist can discuss rehabilitation options with you before your hearing loss deteriorates too much (Vasilyeva et al, 2009).
Prevention is better than Cure
The most common diabetes in adults is Type 2 and it is possible to avoid the onset of this disease and even reverse the condition, especially if pre-diabetic. It is important to know what the relationship is between your lifestyle and the onset of this disease and take active steps to avoid diabetes, which in turn will lower the risk of complicating factors such as hearing loss (www.nih.gov). The causes are varied but if you remember that disease is due to high blood sugar levels, we can look at a few things that trigger this. Diet is primary; carbohydrates increase your blood sugar levels, so try and reduce or avoid foods high in carbohydrates such as pasta and potatoes and sugary foods like sweets. Eating a healthy diet is essential and you can easily do this by introducing more vegetables and foods high in fibre. Other big risk factors for diabetes is obesity, being sedentary, and high blood pressure. Exercise is vital for good health and well being and also for keeping trim. Reducing alcohol intake and Regular exercise assists you in losing weight and will also help you to maintain a healthy blood pressure. If you smoke, try to reduce it until you have given it up. People who smoke greatly increase their risk for diabetes.
The number of diabetes cases is increasing and it is known that if you have diabetes you double your chances of hearing loss. The reasons why having diabetes contributes to the complication of a hearing loss so significantly are not completely clear, however, we do know that very high blood sugar levels lead to glucotoxicity which breaks down the nerves, arteries, blood vessels and organs of the body. It is thought that in the same way glucotoxicity may very likely damage the blood vessels and nerves of the delicate mechanism of your inner ear, which will cause hearing loss. Taking positive steps to prevent this disease and even reverse it involves not only changing your lifestyle, but also to regularly check your hearing with your audiologist. You can do this every year just as you have an annual check-up with your general practitioner.
If you’re looking to get your hearing tested, trust Australia’s only hearing healthcare provider, Attune Hearing. With clinics nationwide, visit one of our friendly Audiologists for a professional hearing test to determine your level of hearing loss or to manage your hearing health. Contact Attune Hearing today.