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Check Your Hearing This November for American Diabetes Month

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Dr. Timothy Teague, AuD

A recent study shows that people with diabetes can be twice as likely to develop hearing loss. This month is a great reminder to prioritize your hearing health by scheduling an appointment to have your hearing checked! 

 

Understanding Hearing Loss 

Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition that people experience today. Impacting over 48 million people, nearly 1 in 8 people have some degree of hearing loss. Impaired hearing reduces one’s capacity to detect and process sound which results in a range of symptoms that strains communication. This includes: 

 

  • Tinnitus: a buzzing, ringing, or clicking like noise heard in one or both ears
  • Sounds are muffled or blend together 
  • Needing to increase the volume on the television or other electronic devices 
  • Asking others to repeat something they’ve said, speak louder, and/or slower
  • Difficulty hearing in places with background noise, during conversations with more than one person 
  • Frequently missing words people say, experiencing miscommunication, needing 

to lip read to identify individual words 

 

These symptoms take a toll on communication which has multifaceted effects on various aspects of life. Untreated hearing loss can strain relationships, cause people to withdraw socially, and increase specific health risks like cognitive decline. Hearing loss is a permanent condition so practicing ways to protect hearing health is a useful way to be as preventative as possible. 

 

Link Between Diabetes & Hearing Loss 

Research reveals a link between diabetes and hearing loss. Studies show that diabetes can significantly increase the risk of developing hearing loss. This includes a recent study, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, conducted by researchers at the National Institutes of Health. Researchers analyzed data from a national health survey that included results from hearing tests and a diabetes questionnaire for over 11,000 participants, ages 20-69. Findings highlighted that participants with diabetes were significantly more likely to also experience hearing loss, compared to participants without diabetes. Specifically, among people with hearing loss, 

  • 54% had high-frequency hearing loss compared to 32% of people without diabetes.
  • 21% had mid-frequency hearing loss compared to 9% of people without diabetes. 

 

These findings show that people with diabetes can be more than twice as likely to develop mid-frequency hearing loss. Diabetes is known to damage blood vessels throughout the body. Experts suggest that this can include the blood vessels in the inner ear which can potentially explain the correlation between both conditions. The inner ear is critical to the processing of sound – hair cells in the inner ear help convert incoming soundwaves into electrical signals that then go to the brain to be further processed. Damaged blood vessels can restrict this capacity, causing hearing loss. This underscores the importance for people with diabetes (and people who are also prone to diabetes) to prioritize hearing health. 

 

Ways to Protect Your Hearing Health

There are several ways you can protect your hearing health, reducing your risk of developing hearing loss. A few tips you can start immediately practicing includes: 

  • Schedule a hearing test. Establishing a baseline of your hearing capacity and needs is the first step. This involves having your hearing assessed by a hearing healthcare specialist, like an audiologist, who is trained to diagnose and treat hearing-related conditions. Hearing exams involve a painless process that uses speech and sound tests to identify what your hearing capacity is in both ears. This identifies any impairment and the degree of hearing loss you could be experiencing. Once your hearing needs are established, your hearing healthcare provider can make recommendations for treatment options that can maximize your hearing capacity. 
  • Reduce your exposure to loud noise. One of the most common causes of hearing loss is exposure to loud noise. Loud noise can damage the hair cells in the inner ear, reducing their capacity to process incoming soundwaves. Reducing your exposure is a useful way to mitigate this risk. There are several ways you can do this including lowering the volume on electronic devices which can reach hazardous levels, avoiding places with background noise, using noise cancellation headphones that reduce background noise, spacing out social events that take place in louder settings, etc. 
  • Wear hearing protection. Another useful way to reduce your exposure to loud noise is by wearing hearing protection. This can include headphones or earplugs which reduce the amount of loud noise you absorb. 

 

This month is a great reminder to take action around your health. You can commit to this by calling us to schedule an appointment for a hearing test!