Check Your Hearing This November for American Diabetes Month

Do you find that recently you have been excessively hungry or thirsty? Do you ever feel like your arms feel tingly or your vision seems to blur? These are tell-tale signs of diabetes – a devastating condition which affects an estimated 422 million people worldwide. Alarmingly the world toll is estimated to affect 1 in 3 people in the next 30 years if awareness of this condition doesn’t change. This is why November is set aside as American Diabetes Month – a campaign to increase awareness and promote early screening for this chronic disease. 

Detecting Diabetes Before It Starts

In the US, the CDC estimates that 88 million people have prediabetes, making up for 34.5% of the U.S. adult population. Detecting and treating this disease before it has a chance to become full blown, can prevent many of the dangerous side effects of diabetes including heart disease, nerve damage, kidney failure, blindness, and amputation. To make matters worse, there is significant data that suggests that hearing loss and diabetes are intertwined.

Studies Connecting Hearing Loss and Diabetes

While many are still not in agreement on how the two conditions affect each other, there have been enough studies that suggest that having diabetes can significantly increase the risk of hearing loss. In 2012 researchers combined data from 13 significant studies tracking more than 20,000 people and published the finding in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The study found that those with diabetes were 2.15 times more likely to have hearing loss than those without the disease, regardless of age. Even with the presence of prediabetes, the risk of hearing loss was 30% higher.

Understanding Diabetes

To better understand how hearing loss is affected by diabetes, it is important to comprehend how diabetes affects the body. It all revolves around the body’s ability to produce a sufficient supply of insulin. Insulin is a hormone which is created in the pancreas, a flat organ within the abdomen. Insulin is important in that it aids in the absorption of glucose, also known as blood sugar, into the cells of the entire body. This gives energy to the cells and the body and maintains cell health. There are a few types of diabetes, but the most common, affecting 90% of cases, is type 2. Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, or the cells struggle to properly absorb the hormone. This can cause cells to become damaged throughout the body including the ears. 

Understanding How Hearing Loss Occurs

Our ears collect sound, but it is not comprehended until it reaches the brain. Sound comes into our ears as vibrations that are sent through a series of tiny mechanisms until it reaches the cochlea, a fluid-filled, tiny snail-shaped organism. Within the cochlea are tiny hair-like cells called stereocilia which move based on ripples from the fluid inside the cochlea. The stereocilia then convert these vibrations into electronic pulses which are sent to the auditory cortex in the brain. It is here that sound is processed and interpreted. As diabetes progresses, the blood cells which support the stereocilia and cochlea can easily become damaged, which inhibits the transfer of audio information to the brain. This can cause issues with understanding speech, identifying sound, and gauging its location.

Managing Blood Sugar

The key to maintaining healthy hearing with diabetes is monitoring and keeping blood sugar levels at a safe level. If you have been diagnosed with diabetes, then it is reasonable to begin annual checkups around hearing health. Follow your doctors’ instructions and make sure to take the medication prescribed to keep blood sugars at a safe level. In addition, prioritize a regular cardiovascular exercise routine. About 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise helps your body use insulin more efficiently. Regular exercise can lower blood sugar levels for up to 12 hours afterward. Your muscles require energy to work. They feed your muscles, your body burns excess sugar which can lower excess in your bloodstream.

Fighting Diabetes and Hearing Loss

In addition, prioritizing a healthy diet, rich in vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains while avoiding processed sugars offers fewer chances to experience high spikes in blood sugar levels. The high prevalence of processed sugar in the world diet is a major contributor to the rise in diabetes.  Use this month as a call to action and address your diabetes and your hearing issues now. Start by scheduling a hearing test.