Are you at risk for diabetes? The truth is you may be prediabetic and not even know it. Most people live with prediabetes for years without being aware of it, because symptoms are scant. The precursor to Type 2 diabetes, prediabetes may sometimes alert people in the form of skin tags or discoloration in the armpits or neck, but these symptoms are not reliable.
This November is National Diabetes Month – a month-long campaign to raise awareness around diabetes and how to prevent it. This year’s focus is on prediabetes. There are several health risks associated with diabetes, including heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation, but many people don’t realize that your hearing may also be at risk. By learning how to screen and treat diabetes, before it becomes a larger issue, you can also be part of protecting your hearing.
There are several types of diabetes. The most common type of diabetes, attributed to 90% of the 34.2 million people in the US affected, is type 2. Type 2 diabetes occurs when your body can not properly absorb blood sugar into your cells throughout your body. A healthy, non-diabetic body will produce insulin in a hormone located in the abdomen, called the pancreas. Insulin aids in the absorption of glucose, or blood sugar into cells, which use them for energy immediately and for the future. When the body cannot produce enough insulin or is not able to properly absorb blood sugar type 2 diabetes can cause circulation issues that affect the heart, kidneys, eyes, extremities, and ears.
Understanding the Link Between the Ears and Diabetes
A 2009 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that those with diabetes are twice as likely to experience hearing loss as people without diabetes. If you are someone with prediabetes, your risk of developing hearing loss is 30 percent higher. Prediabetes is not fully developed diabetes but occurs when glucose levels in the blood are high, but not to the point of being considered diabetes. However, this is the best moment to prevent diabetes or lessen the effects on your health and your hearing.
The Connection Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss
While there is no consensus on the connection between the two serious conditions, the most common theories point to the diabetes effect on blood vessels and impaired blood flow. The ears are a complicated and incredibly delicate system that sends audio vibrations from the ears to the brain, via tiny hair-like cells. When these cells become damaged, the brain cannot properly recognize and process sound, leading to gradual hearing loss. As blood sugar levels fluctuate, cells can become damaged around the inner ear, causing permanent hearing loss. Blood vessel damage could also affect the cochlea – a tiny snail-shaped organ, within the inner ear which holds the hair-like cells and communicates with the brain.
The Severe Effects of Hearing Loss
You may not think hearing loss is as severe as some of the other dangerous side effects of diabetes. However, our health is interconnected and many of us don’t consider how important our hearing loss is to our general health. When we struggle to hear, parts of words and sentences become lost. We have to work harder to hear others which make social interaction exhausting. Over time, many find that they avoid social interactions between friends and co-workers and intimacy suffers between significant others. It is common for untreated hearing loss to lead to chronic depression and anxiety over the years. It can also cause cognitive decline, as brains are forced to strain, to complete gaps in conversation.
Can Diabetes-Related Hearing Loss Be Prevented or Treated?
When diabetes damages the cells of the inner ear, hearing loss is permanent. This is why it is incredibly important to manage your blood sugar levels. Talk to your doctor about medications to keep your levels under control. You may also find success by modifying your diet and lifestyle. Add at least 25 minutes three times a week of cardiovascular exercise. It is also important to prioritize a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins while avoiding processed sugars that cause glucose levels to spike.
Treating Hearing Loss this November
While hearing loss is permanent, it can be effectively treated. Find out how! This November use American Diabetes Month is a call to action and schedule a hearing exam today.