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Can Untreated Diabetes Mean Reduced Hearing?

Diabetes and hearing loss? We speak with many people who don’t realize there’s a link between the two. As November is Diabetes Awareness Month what better time to discuss the issue.

According to the Canadian Diabetes Association, more than 9 million Canadians have prediabetes or diabetes. Organs, blood vessels and nerves – including those in the inner ear - can be damaged by the body’s inability to use or process insulin. Said Catherine Cowie, senior author of a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study on diabetes in the US, “Hearing loss may be an under-recognized complication of diabetes. As diabetes becomes more common, the disease may become a more significant contributor to hearing loss.”

Type 2 - which affects 90% of those with diabetes - usually presents in adulthood. The NIH study found links between impaired hearing and diabetes as early as 30 – 40 years of age. Among prediabetics, who may display no symptoms, but risk developing diabetes in the next 10 years, the study showed a rate of hearing loss of up to 30% higher than people with normal blood sugar levels.

For women specifically, not treating diabetic symptoms means hearing can vary with blood-glucose levels. Dr. Derek J. Handzo found that women between 60 and 75 who didn’t treat their diabetes had impaired hearing compared to non-diabetic women of the same age. “A certain degree of hearing loss is a normal part of the aging process for all of us,” says Dr. Derek J. Handzo, “but it is often accelerated in patients with diabetes, especially if their blood-glucose levels are not being controlled with medication and diet.” 

So why aren’t we more aware of hearing loss and diabetes? Over the years, the link between hearing loss and diabetes has been debated and perhaps this has muddied the waters. But now larger studies are finding consistent evidence. Even the Canadian Diabetes Association website doesn’t list hearing loss as a diabetic complication. So we need to share our knowledge with others.

Our concern is protecting and preserving hearing. The Canadian Diabetes Association is urging Canadians over 40 to get checked and we think you should too. Amongst diabetics, while hearing loss can occur across all frequencies, it’s most commonly seen in the high frequencies in which we hear speech, music and our morning alarm clock as a few examples. We don’t want people to lose connection to these sounds.

What isn’t known is whether treating diabetic symptoms can reverse hearing loss. There’s still a lot to learn so be proactive and get tested. Click the links to find more information on diabetes or symptoms of hearing loss.

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