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The Link Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss

June 12, 2024
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Written by
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A
Amy Sarow, AuD, CCC-A

Dr. Amy Sarow is a practicing clinical audiologist and serves as Audiology Lead for Soundly. Her expertise and experience span topics including tinnitus, cochlear implants, hearing aid technology, and hearing testing. She holds a doctoral degree in audiology from the University of Iowa. During her residency at Mayo Clinic, Dr. Sarow was inspired by the three-tiered, patient-centered approach, incorporating clinical work, teaching and research.

Soundly Staff
Reviewed by
Soundly Staff
Soundly Staff

Soundly conducts in-depth research to guide prospective hearing aid wearers. Our work is funded through reader support. When you buy through our links, we may earn a commission.

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Key Takeaways:

  • Research suggests a relationship between diabetes and hearing loss - individuals with diabetes are twice as likely to develop hearing loss as their peers.
  • Diabetes may affect how sound is transmitted to the auditory nerve and nervous system.
  • Regular check-ups with your physician can help manage diabetes, and monitoring hearing with regular audiograms is recommended to watch for changes in hearing.

Hearing loss is a common condition in the United States, and it can affect people of all ages and backgrounds. 

As an audiologist, I have worked with patients who have both hearing loss and diabetes (a chronic condition that affects millions of Americans), among other health concerns and issues.

Today we know that diabetes is expected to increase to affect as many as one in three Americans by 2060. While the relationship between hearing loss and diabetes is not widely known, research suggests a connection between the two. 

In this blog post, we will explore how diabetes affects hearing and what you can do to monitor your hearing and prevent further damage.

What is the connection between diabetes and hearing loss?

Diabetes affects the body's insulin production and glucose metabolism. So, you might be wondering what blood sugar has to do with hearing loss. Type II diabetes can have a cascade of effects on the metabolism and body, such as neuropathy, vision changes, or an increased likelihood of stroke and cardiovascular events. 

While the exact mechanism is not well understood, research shows that individuals with diabetes have twice the risk of developing hearing loss as their age-matched peers without diabetes

One theory is that high blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear, which can cause hearing loss. Another theory suggests that diabetes affects how the body responds to inflammation, which can also cause hearing loss.

How does diabetes affect the audiogram?

Image of an audiogram test.

Here’s what two insightful studies had to say on the diabetes audiogram (hearing test chart) connection: 

⭐ A recent study found that people with diabetes experience hearing loss at the highest frequencies on the audiogram, meaning that they can struggle to hear whispers and high-pitched sounds. 

⭐ Another study found that 50% of individuals with diabetes had a flat hearing loss configuration, meaning that their audiograms looked like a straight line across the audiogram. This study also found that TEOAEs and DPOAEs, measurements of outer hair cell function, were commonly absent among this population. 

However, other audiometric tests also show changes. For example, another type of hearing test called the auditory brainstem response (ABR) shows how the auditory nerve, central nervous system, and brainstem respond to sound. One study found that ABR wave latencies were prolonged among diabetic patients. 

These results suggest that not only the audiograms of these patients may be affected, but also how sound is transmitted to the auditory nerve and nervous system is impacted. 

Anecdotally, I've seen some patients with diabetes struggle more with speech understanding. While there is no direct research to back this up, speech clarity may be more affected in this group due to underlying mechanisms.

Patients with diabetes typically develop sensorineural hearing loss, which may be caused by damage to the hair cells in the inner ear, metabolic changes to structures in the inner ear, or changes to the neural structures and how sound travels to the brain. 

Signs of Hearing Loss

Common signs of hearing loss include:

  • Constantly asking people to repeat themselves
  • Feeling that others mumble or speak too quickly
  • Struggling to hear in noisy environments

Tinnitus, or a ringing in the ears, may also indicate hearing loss. Just as diabetes can be a slow progression, hearing loss may happen gradually over the years. Staying on top of your hearing health is essential, especially if you have diabetes.

Diabetes and Dizziness

The inner ear has two parts: A hearing portion and a balance portion. 

While patients can develop hearing loss without ever experiencing dizziness, some patients experience both. Diabetic patients may experience several types of dizziness: lightheadedness, imbalance, or true vertigo. Maintaining your sense of balance is essential for safety and maintaining physical fitness. If you're experiencing dizziness, consult your healthcare provider.

What can be done to prevent or slow down hearing loss due to diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic disease that can lead to complications if not monitored and managed. The same goes for hearing loss related to diabetes. 

To help prevent or slow down hearing loss, it is essential to: 

  1. Monitor your blood sugar levels. Stable blood sugar levels can help protect your hearing.
  2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle. Eating healthy, exercising regularly, and avoiding smoking are all great steps to reduce the chances of developing diabetes-related hearing loss.
  3. See an audiologist for annual evaluations. The CDC now recommends that people with diabetes monitor their hearing yearly. Regular hearing tests with an audiologist can detect hearing changes early and help you develop a plan to protect your hearing. 
  4. Avoid loud sound exposure. Wear hearing protection if you work in loud settings or engage in loud recreational activities.

If you have diabetes and are experiencing any symptoms of hearing loss, it is essential to talk to your doctor or audiologist. By monitoring both conditions closely, you can reduce the risk of further hearing damage and ensure you hear well for years. 

👉 Read more about what to expect from your first hearing test here

Treating Hearing Loss

There is no cure for hearing loss, but various treatments can help people manage it. Hearing aids are the most common form of treatment, and they can improve hearing for many people with sensorineural hearing loss. While hearing aids cannot restore hearing fully, they can help people hear better in everyday situations and improve their quality of life.

If you have been diagnosed with diabetes-related hearing loss, hearing aids can significantly improve your quality of life. Hearing aids allow you to listen and communicate more effectively, which can help manage stress levels and provide greater independence. When it comes to finding the right device for your needs, it is essential to work with a professional who can help you find the best solution for your lifestyle. 

Final Thoughts

Diabetes affects the body in many ways, leading to complications like hearing loss. 

While the exact relationship between diabetes and hearing loss is not entirely understood, it is clear that monitoring both conditions is essential for preventing further decline in hearing health. 

Diabetes and hearing loss are both prevalent conditions in the United States, and there is a strong link between the two. People with diabetes are more likely to develop sensorineural hearing loss, which can affect the ability to hear high or low-pitched sounds. Regular hearing checkups, maintaining stable blood sugar levels, and avoiding loud noises can help prevent further hearing loss. 

If you experience any signs of hearing loss, you should seek professional advice as soon as possible to get the best care possible. Remember, hearing care is just as critical as diabetes care, and caring for both can help you lead a healthier and happier life.

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