Diabetes is known as Diabetes Mellitus, or DM. It is a group of metabolic disorders that are characterized by abnormalities in insulin and elevated blood sugar levels. DM has two classifications or types. Type 1, DMI, is an immune-mediated disorder. The absence of insulin-producing beta cells, found in the pancreas, no longer create insulin. It is often sudden and is less common. In Type 2, DMII, the pancreas continues to create insulin.
However, the cellular impairments are sensitive to insulin due to blood sugar (glucose) levels rising. This often occurs as a result of diet, lifestyle or environmental influences superimposed on genetic predisposition. It is gradual. This is the type which most people think about when diabetes is discussed.
Diabetes changes the blood vessels and nerves throughout the body. The ears are no exception. Current research is demonstrating the prevalence of hearing loss and diabetes is on the rise. Some research suggests a stronger connection between diagnosed diabetes and hearing loss in younger adults (ages 30-69) than in older (ages 70-100).
One of the thoughts is that diabetes prematurely ages the ear. Complications related to diabetes are neuropathies (loss of feeling in feet or, pins and needles feeling in feet), retinopathy and peripheral arterial disease. All of these affect the vascular system. It is possible that the changes that occur within the vascular and neural systems cause changes to occur within the inner ear and cochlear nerve. These, in turn, affect hearing and balance.
Loss of outer hair cells within the cochlea (inner ear hearing mechanism) have been observed in patients with diabetes. Especially in the low or mid frequencies—the areas where speech understanding occurs.
Audiologists are educated on the familial history of diabetes and the hearing loss associated with it. Patients with diabetes are encouraged to maintain good blood glucose control per the American Diabetes Association guidelines. Patients whose parents or siblings are diabetic are informed by audiologists of the increased risk of diabetes and are encouraged to get routine checks of their glucose levels and hearing.
Having control of blood sugar is known to slow down, but not prevent diabetes and, in turn, slow diabetic related hearing loss. It remains an important part of your overall health to get your annual glucose testing from your physician and an annual audiometric hearing evaluation performed by an audiologist.