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Hearing loss is a chronic health condition that is drastically undertreated in the United States. While over 35 million people live with significant hearing loss, less than one in three have used hearing aids. For adults younger than 70, that statistic plummets to less than one in six.
One big reason hearing loss is undertreated is that people fail to connect their hearing health to other aspects of their health and wellness. In fact, your hearing is interconnected to the rest of your body and health and hearing problems need to be taken seriously.
Hearing loss both affects and is affected by other health conditions. Untreated hearing loss has notably been shown to cause elevated risk of falling injuries, depression, dementia, anxiety and isolation. Hearing loss takes an especially severe toll on cognitive performance and quality of life if left unaddressed.
On the other end of the health equation, multiple health conditions can feed into the risk hearing loss. Amongst these are a correlation between elevated risk of hearing loss and other chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes significantly elevate hearing loss risk, exposing diabetics to twice the likelihood of developing hearing loss compared to non-diabetics. Less understood than the connection between heart disease and hearing loss, new research is establishing just how diabetes contributes to hearing loss risk.
Diabetes and Your Hearing
The key to understanding how diabetes and hearing issues are connected seems to stem largely from the effect diabetes has on circulation. Diabetes is marked by high blood glucose levels, an out-of-balance condition where the glucose gradually erodes the lining of small blood vessels, ultimately impairing their functioning.
Your small blood vessels are the necessary pathways for many many aspects of your body’s circulation including the cells of the inner ear that our hearing relies upon. Our sense of hearing originates in our ears. Soundwaves in the air travel through our ear canal where they then cause tiny sensory cells in our inner ear to vibrate. These sensory “hair cells” are responsible for sending sound signals to the brain for interpretation.
Unfortunately, hair cells are very delicate and they don’t have the capacity to repair, replace or regenerate themselves when they are injured. A hair cell that becomes damaged ceases to function and creates a tiny gap in our ability to detect sound. The more hair cells that lose functionality, the more significant permanent hearing damage is, resulting in hearing loss.
These tiny and fraile cells are nourished by nutrients coming through the small blood vessels of the inner ear. When the blood vessels cease to function properly, they essentially starve the hair cells, imperilling their ability to work properly. Hair cells can be damaged by loud noises, infections, some medications, and, in the case of diabetes, a lack of proper blood flow to the cells.
Caring For Your Hearing and Health
Diabetes complicates many aspects of health and well-being and needs to be managed properly. If you live with diabetes, it is important to make the time to monitor your insulin levels and balance your diet. Managing diabetes can go a long way towards preventing the development of comorbidities – other health conditions that exist alongside diabetes.
It is also important for diabetics to make a habit of regular hearing tests to screen for diabetes-related hearing loss. Catching and treating hearing loss early helps prevent further health complications brought on by hearing loss.
Everyone should be aware of some of the common signs of hearing issues, and diabetics should be extra observant. Signs include:
- Voices sounding muted or muffled, especially high-pitched voices
- Turning up the volume on televisions, computers, stereos and personal devices in order to fully hear speech
- Having to ask for statements to be repeated or having to ask people to speak up
- Withdrawing from social situations because hearing issues make them difficult or unpleasant
- Discomfort or confusion in noisy environments
- Trouble following multi-person conversations and difficulty determining who is speaking
If you are experiencing one or some of these signs, it is time to schedule a hearing test. Remember, hearing loss doesn’t have to have a negative impact on your life – managing hearing loss can help you lessen the burden hearing loss puts on your health and wellbeing.