Diabetes can dramatically affect your hearing

Diabetes Week is 10th to 16th June and award-winning audiologists local Aston Hearing are raising awareness about the little-known fact that people with diabetes are over three times more likely to have a hearing problem than those who do not have the disease.

Hearing loss is only just coming under the spotlight as a recognised complication of diabetes according to Paula Cook, Senior Audiologist at Aston Hearing, who says: “It is vital that diabetics should have their hearing tested as part of their diabetes management programme to implement preventive health and hearing conservation strategies. This is not something that is routinely done yet for diabetics, but it is very important not least because hearing loss is associated with depression and functional loss.”

Globally, an estimated422 millionadults were living withdiabetesin 2014, compared to 108millionin 1980 as a result in a huge growth of type two diabetes cause by poor diet and lifestyle. It is estimated that just over four million people have diabetes in the UK. 90% are type 2 diabetics. It is believed that up to a further one million people remain undiagnosed.

Recent studies suggest there is a strong association between diabetes and hearing loss which is a common complication of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. It is thought that prolonged high glucose levels characteristic of diabetes causes damage to the tiny blood vessels of the inner ear. Over time this leads to degeneration and hearing loss.

Cook continues: “Hearing loss refers to a partial or total inability to hear and can be due to damage to the inner ear where sensitive hair cells of the cochlea transmit nerve impulses to the hearing centre of the brain, which is called sensorineural hearing loss. This is the type of hearing loss we are seeing in diabetics.

“Hearing damage can be irreversible so it is important to keep your blood glucose levels under good control, maintain a healthy diet and exercise regime. The lifestyle choices you make as a diabetic, such as what you eat, can even affect your hearing.”

Richard Towers from Wheatley has been a diabetic for 32 years since he was 14 years old and has recently noticed a decline in his hearing. “I don’t have severe enough hearing loss to warrant any hearing aids, but I have noticed a gradual decline. It wasn’t something that had been discussed with my medical team as something to watch out for though. I recently had a hearing test so now I have a baseline from which we can compare to and keep a watch out for.”

What Are The Signs Of Hearing Loss & What Should You Do?

The signs may be gradual and not noticed straight away. You may…

  • Find it hard to hear people clearly
  • Keep asking people to repeat what they have said
  • Have difficulty using the telephone or hearing the doorbell
  • Turn the volume of the radio or TV up high.

If you identify these early signs of hearing loss, then treatment can be lot more effective. The first stage of treatment is to seek the advice of an audiologist, privately or via a GP referral. An audiologist will assess the type and severity of the hearing impairment.

Although hearing loss has the most obvious impact on the ears, recent studies have found that untreated hearing loss can cause many problems such as fatigue, stress, anxiety, depression and isolation.

If you ever notice a very rapid, unexplained loss of hearing then you should take immediate action and see a private audiologist for an emergency hearing test within 24 hours as you may have experienced a Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) which requires urgent treatment at A&E and is a medical emergency. If you are unable to get a hearing test first, do not delay but go straight to A&E.

What Can You Do As A Diabetic To Protect Your Hearing?

  1. Having good blood sugar control through diet and if needed through medication, will give your hearing the best possible chance. Losing weight and exercising is shown to improve, and in some cases reverse, type two diabetes by making your insulin more sensitive again.

Regular exercise and being a healthy weight will help with regular blood flow including to your ears!

  1. Get a Baseline – If you have diabetes, request to get a baseline measurement of your hearing and then get your hearing tested annually. If you suffer from any hearing loss, the sooner you deal with it the better the outcome. Request specialist help as soon as possible.
  1. Turn down the volume on personal electronic devices which you use with headphones and protect your hearing at work if necessary. Excessive noise can increase the likelihood of hearing loss.