Diabetes is truly an insidious disease. Though there is an immediate risk of extreme low or high blood glucose levels, most of the damage accumulates slowly over time. Elevated blood glucose levels are a symptom of prediabetes and diabetes of any type. The American Diabetes Association indicates that, in 2012, 29.1 million Americans were diagnosed with diabetes while 86 million were estimated to have elevated blood glucose levels indicating prediabetes.
Elevated blood glucose, commonly called high blood sugars, begins to damage body systems, including nerves and blood vessels. Small blood vessels are first to leak or become clogged (infarct). Some of the smallest blood vessels are found in the eyes and ears, and they are the ones that exhibit damage much earlier than larger blood vessels that may lead to such things as a heart attack.
Ears and Diabetes
In addition to blood vessel damage, diabetes also predisposes patients to higher rates of viral, bacterial and fungal infections, any of which can cause hearing loss when they affect the ears. Furthermore, the American Diabetes Association indicates that a 2009-2012 study reports at least 71 percent of US adults with diabetes also have elevated blood pressure levels (hypertension), which increases the risk of hearing loss. Research from the same time period adds a 65 percent occurrence of high cholesterol (dyslipidemia) for those diagnosed with diabetes.
The increased risk of infections combined with the threefold attack of high blood glucose, high blood pressure and high cholesterol on the nerves, micro-blood vessels and cochlear hair cells makes diabetics much more likely to experience damage to hearing. The loss of hearing due to uncontrolled diabetes often occurs gradually, almost imperceptibly, and is most often irreversible. Keeping blood glucose levels as close to normal for as long as possible is the number one recommended step diabetics can take to avoid or minimize any complications, including hearing loss due to diabetes.
Avoid the Confounding Noise Factor
The odds are stacked against diabetics when it comes to hearing loss. Making it worse is exposure to noise. There are formulas for predicting hearing loss based on noise levels rated in decibels and cumulative exposure. Without carrying around a meter to measure sound levels at the ear, wisdom and common sense can be used. If it is noisy, it is wise for everyone, especially those with diabetes, to reduce sound levels at the ears by wearing ear plugs or other hearing protection equipment.
Noise-induced hearing loss can occur from an immediate loud sound, or it can occur from lower levels of sound that one is exposed to over longer periods of time. Like common hearing loss that diabetics can experience due to blood vessel and nerve damage to the ears, noise-induced hearing loss can happen slowly over time and be almost imperceptible until much damage has occurred.
Everyone should turn down the volume when listening to sound through headphones and earbuds as well as when listening to a stereo at home or in the car. However, foam earplugs or other hearing protection should be worn in noisy environments such as:
- Mowing the lawn
- Operating any power tools
- Attending music and other events were sound amplification of voice or instruments occurs
- Within proximity of firearms being discharged or firework displays
- Racing events or other times when loud engine noises are present
- Construction work, including the sound of hammering nails and jackhammers
- Passing trains
Stop Smoking Now
Smoking has an extremely negative effect on blood vessels in addition to the rest of the damage the chemicals have on body systems. Smoking exacerbates the damage diabetics already experience with elevated glucose levels. Again, the damage is likely to present so slowly that significant irreversible hearing loss can occur before a problem is noticed. Ceasing smoking takes away the ongoing chemical assault that is a partial cause of the damage. It is a factor that is 100 percent controllable by those who smoke in choosing to commit to quit. For those who fail at any attempt to quit smoking, it is important to try and quit again. Medical care providers have programs and even prescription medications to aid in smoking cessation.
Those newly diagnosed with diabetes as well as those who have had it for years should get regular hearing exams to detect issues as early as possible in order to intervene and protect further damage. Even those who have had diabetes for years and never had a hearing exam should get one as soon as possible to establish a baseline to more readily detect any future issues. We invite those who have been diagnosed with diabetes to call us today for an appointment for a comprehensive hearing examination to preserve hearing for life.