In honor of American Diabetes Month, this November is the perfect time to get your hearing checked. With diabetes now effecting 37 million Americans and hearing loss another 34 million, understanding prevention, treatment, and management is more relevant than ever.
Diabetes and Hearing Loss
There are three types of diabetes.
- Type 1 diabetes primarily impacts children, teens, and young adults. It’s also called insulin dependent diabetes because the pancreas does not make any or very little insulin in order to correct the body’s blood sugar.
- Type 2 diabetes, also called insulin resistant diabetes, primarily impacts older adults. It is more common, with around 90-95% of all diabetes cases being type 2. The pancreas produces insulin to treat consistently high blood sugars, the cells then become resistant and more insulin is needed. Eventually, the pancreas is just unable to keep up with the amount of insulin needed.
- Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy. Oftentimes, it corrects itself after birth, however approximately 50% of women with gestational diabetes develop type 2 diabetes later in life.
To manage all three types of diabetes, insulin is used to keep blood sugars within a specified range. High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, and low blood sugars, or hypoglycemia, over time can damage the small blood vessels and nerves in the body.
These long term effects are what lead to complications such as hearing loss. However it is not just hearing loss that can be the problem. Damage to the inner ear can also cause tinnitus, or ringing in the ears, and balance problems.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss
With the correlation between diabetes and hearing loss, if you have diabetes it is important to know what to look for when experiencing hearing loss. Common misconceptions with hearing loss are that it will be obvious and that it will sound like the volume being reduced on a television.
On the contrary, because hearing loss related to diabetes tends to happen in a slow, gradual manner, it can take years to recognize the hearing loss. Additionally, hearing loss effects various frequencies of sound differently, rather than all the same. Below are the most common signs and symptoms of hearing loss.
- Difficulty understanding- It is often by those with hearing loss that they feel like they can hear, they just can’t understand. This is a common symptom of hearing loss and you should get a hearing test if you experience this.
- Asking others to repeat themselves- You might notice yourself asking others to repeat themselves more often, or others might point this out to you.
- Difficulty hearing with background noise or low light- When in a restaurant or a crowded area, the background noise can make it more difficult to hear the person speaking. Furthermore, if the area is not lit well and you cannot see the person you are speaking to, it may be harder to understand them.
- Television and radio too loud- This is another sign of hearing loss. Again, you may notice it yourself, but more likely others will mention the television being too loud for them.
Get your Hearing Checked
Because it can take years for hearing loss to be fully recognized or for a person to seek help, it is recommended that those with diabetes get an annual hearing test. Even if you are not experiencing any signs or symptoms, obtaining a baseline hearing test can be beneficial in the long run.
A hearing test, or audiogram, is performed by an audiologist. For the hearing test, you sit in a small sound proof room with headphones. Beeps of various pitches and volumes will play in your ears and you signify which beeps are heard with a clicker in your hand.
The results are printed on a graph with the vertical y-axis showing volume in decibels and the horizontal x-axis showing the frequencies heard. Each ear is graphed separately. If treatment, usually in the form of hearing aids, is needed, this graph will allow the audiologist to program the hearing aids for the exact needs of the user. If, for example, a specific frequency is within normal range, then the hearing aid would not amplify that specific sound.
If you have diabetes, make an appointment with an audiologist today to discuss hearing loss with diabetes and to obtain a baseline hearing test.
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