“Diabetes has far-reaching consequences, which can even include hearing loss. The most common type of diabetes involves insulin resistance which is often treated most effectively with proper diet and weight loss. Taking good care of our overall health can not only help us feel better but even improve our hearing.” - Drew Sutton, MD, Board-Certified Otolaryngologist
Hearing loss is a condition in which the ability to hear sounds is diminished. There are many potential causes of a loss of hearing. Loud sounds, medications, age, and more can all impact the ability to hear. One such relationship that is not frequently discussed is the relationship between diabetes and hearing loss.
Diabetes is a blood sugar regulation disorder, while hearing loss results in a decreased ability to perceive sounds. Understanding how and if the two are related can allow you to understand hearing loss and how it may be impacted by a decreased ability to regulate blood sugar.
Below is a closer look at diabetes, hearing loss, their relationship, and what you can do about it. With this knowledge, you will identify potential risks to your hearing and understand how it impacts your ability to perceive sound.
Diabetes at its core is a diminished ability to regulate blood sugar within the body properly. When you eat a carbohydrate-rich meal, the body quickly breaks them down into component sugars, allowing them to be absorbed into the bloodstream. The problem for people with diabetes is that it is difficult for the body to decrease its blood sugar levels without outside assistance.
Below is a closer look at the system of blood sugar regulation and the different types of diabetes.
Blood Sugar Regulation
Blood sugar is highly regulated within the body and is required to stay within a narrow range for your body to function at its best.
The main reason for this tight regulation is that the brain exclusively utilizes glucose as an energy source. This means that proper blood sugar levels are needed to help fuel your brain adequately. This is why when blood sugar drops drastically; it can result in fainting.
Following a meal, the hormone insulin is responsible for helping to reduce blood sugar levels when they become elevated after eating. When insulin is secreted, the body’s cells begin to take in the sugars from the blood to utilize as energy. This helps to decrease blood sugar levels, and following a blood sugar increase after eating allows the blood sugar to return back to baseline.
Insulin is the basis for the different types of diabetes. Without a true mechanism to tightly regulate insulin spikes, individuals either need to supplement insulin following a meal or watch their diet to help avoid blood sugar spikes.
The body also has another system in place to help if blood sugar levels get too low. The body naturally will store excess blood sugar in the form of glycogen. Glycogen can be thought of as energy stores. When low blood sugar is detected, the body secretes a hormone known as glucagon, which stimulates the breakdown of glycogen into sugars that enter the bloodstream.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce insulin on its own. Type 1 diabetes can be present at birth, but it can also occur due to an illness, infection, autoimmune disorder, or other problems.
With Type 1 diabetes, the cells that typically produce insulin in the pancreas aren’t, which means the body is mainly incapable of decreasing blood sugar on its own accord. Those with Type 1 diabetes rely on injectable insulin to properly regulate blood sugar.
Traditionally those with Type 1 diabetes would calculate the carb load of a meal they ate and administer the appropriate insulin dose. Performing this calculation and following it up with a finger prick to test blood glucose levels represents a small insight into the lives of those with Type 1 diabetes.
While you certainly still have to be mindful of diet, many technologies can make a living with Type 1 diabetes more manageable. One such technology is known as an artificial pancreas. The artificial pancreas includes a continuous glucose monitor paired with an insulin pump. The monitor takes your blood sugar every few minutes and will administer an appropriate amount of insulin based on your blood sugar. While these systems are far from being perfect, they are a step in the right direction to getting those with diabetes a more normal life.
Type 2 Diabetes
Unlike Type 1 diabetes, those with Type 2 diabetes are still capable of producing insulin on their own. Type 2 diabetics have a difficult time regulating blood sugar because their body becomes resistant to what should be a normal dose of insulin or their insulin production becomes insufficient.
Type 2 diabetes is typically caused by a poor lifestyle, including poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle.
Due to higher sustained levels of insulin produced due to a poor diet, the body becomes accustomed to the insulin and develops a resistance to the hormone. In the same mechanism, the continual secretion of insulin from the pancreas can wear it out and partially reduce insulin synthesis.
Like Type 1 diabetics, Type 2 diabetics also need to watch their diet, frequently test blood sugar, and dose insulin to assist. The two differ in the point at which Type 2 diabetics can improve their blood sugar regulation by adopting a healthy lifestyle. In fact, in some cases, drastic lifestyle modification for the better can reverse Type 2 diabetes.
Hearing can be broken down into three distinct processes which are conduction, sensorineural, and auditory processing. Hearing loss is a condition that can have numerous causes, but it ultimately impacts hearing in one of the three ways outlined above.
Conduction is the process of channeling sound into a way that is then perceivable by the sensory organ known as the cochlea. Sensorineural is where the channeled vibrations are translated into a nerve impulse. From the auditory nerve, the brain processes the neural signals and provides you with an understanding of what is being heard.
How Hearing Loss and Diabetes are Related
While hearing loss and diabetes seem like completely different issues at a surface level, the reality is that bodily systems are not in a vacuum, and an issue with one system can result in other issues down the line.
In the case of diabetes and hearing loss, there appears to be a positive correlation between people diagnosed with diabetes and then diagnosed with hearing loss. At first glance, this statistic is fairly underwhelming as the two have the common denominator that an increase in age increases their prevalence. What was interesting is that the correlation was regardless of age.
With age removed from the equation, the correlation indicates some potential relationship between diabetes and hearing loss. The extent of the relationship is not well understood, but it is nonetheless a finding that people with diabetes should be aware of to ensure they do what they can to reduce the chances of hearing loss.
Being In Control
The relationship between diabetes and hearing loss exists, but what is there to be done? Below is a closer look at some of the actions you can take to help mitigate the chances of diabetes-linked hearing loss.
Get Diabetes Under Control
The first and most important thing would be to try and live a healthier lifestyle. Type 2 diabetics should pay particular attention and ensure they take steps towards remission and a healthier tomorrow.
Regardless of type, ensuring that your blood sugar levels are within range will ensure that the body has everything it needs to function at its best.
If you have already developed hearing loss, getting hearing aids can be immensely helpful in everyday conversations and can turn an unfortunate event of losing hearing into something more manageable.
When shopping for hearing aids, it can be easy to get some sticker shock with the thousand-dollar prescription hearing aids available. Audien is a company dedicated to providing more accessible hearing aids at a fraction of the price. With both the EV1 and EV3, Audien has something for every price range.
In summary, diabetes is a disease the affects insulin within the body. Type 1 diabetics cannot secrete insulin, while those with Type 2 retain insulin production but still have difficulty controlling blood sugar levels. Difficulty regulating blood sugar can undeniably impact the rest of the body and may even include hearing ability.
Understanding the potential that diabetes contributes to hearing loss can allow you to be more diligent about your hearing. It could be just the motivation needed to help turn your diabetes around.