Hearing loss prevention

This November, Test your Hearing in Honor of American Diabetes Month

With nearly 37 million Americans now living with diabetes, understanding the care and management needed to prevent complications from the disease has never been more relevant. Complications can range from heart and kidney disease to vision and hearing loss making controlling your diabetes crucial to your long term health. 

Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can have many causes. In fact, the three types of hearing loss are grouped by where they originate in the ear. 

  • Sensorineural hearing loss occurs in the inner ear and is the most common type of hearing loss. It can be caused by age, noise, medications, trauma, and disease.
  • Conductive hearing loss occurs in the middle or outer ear and is generally caused by an obstruction or infection.
  • Mixed hearing loss is a combination of the other two types of hearing loss. For example if a person had age related hearing loss as well as an obstruction from ear wax.

Based on these categories, hearing loss from diabetes falls into the sensorineural type of hearing loss. Because diabetes, particularly with uncontrolled blood sugars, effects the small vessels and nerves negatively, it can therefore lead to damage to the inner ear. This is one of many reasons why close and proper management of blood sugars is crucial to maintaining health in the long term. 

Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss

If you have diabetes, it is a good idea to consult with an audiologist or hearing health provider even if you have no obvious symptoms of hearing loss. First, because having a baseline hearing test, or audiogram, will be important down the line for comparison purposes. Second, not all symptoms of hearing loss are obvious. 

In fact, hearing loss related to age and diabetes tends to happen gradually over time, making it more difficult to notice the changes yourself. Below are some of the signs and symptoms you or others may begin to notice that can signify some degree of hearing loss.

  • Hearing without understanding– One of the most common statements made by those with hearing loss is “I can hear you, I just can’t understand you.” This is because hearing loss tends to occur in different frequencies at different rates rather than an overall reduction of all sound. This makes understanding language more difficult. 
  • Withdrawal from social situations– Whether phone calls or in person conversations, when communicating becomes more difficult and tiring, people tend to isolate themselves or avoid social situations. 
  • TV or car stereo being too loud– If others have commented on your television or radio being too loud for them, or if you’ve begun to use subtitles because understanding the television has become more difficult, these are signs you might be experiencing hearing loss.

Treatment for Hearing Loss

If you have begun to notice any of these signs and symptoms of hearing loss and have spoken to an audiologist, they may have a few recommendations to ease living with hearing loss. 

Treatment options will likely include hearing aids, or in some extreme cases cochlear implants may be recommended. Hearing aids are more common and are used to treat mild to severe hearing loss. They are programmed to uniquely address your individual hearing loss which is determined by a hearing test. They then work by amplifying the needed frequencies.

Cochlear implants work much differently than hearing aids. They use a small surgically implanted device that stimulates the auditory nerve, allowing the user to translate noise into sounds they recognize.

Living with Hearing Loss

Even with treatment, living with hearing loss requires some adjustments. Advocating for yourself when you are having difficulty understanding someone will be vital. Below are some additional steps to take in order to help you better hear.

  • Make sure your environment is well-lit
  • Reduce excessive background such as televisions
  • Face the person you are speaking with at eye level

Ultimately, living with hearing loss has a unique set of challenges, however with time and communication you and your family and friends will find what works for you.

If you have diabetes, you should make an appointment with a hearing health provider for a baseline hearing test. Make sure to discuss any signs and symptoms you might be experiencing as well as any recommended treatment options.