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Hearing Loss and Diabetes - What's the connection between hearing loss and diabetes?

Kimberley Bradshaw - Head of Marketing
Written By:
Kimberley Bradshaw

Head of Customer Content Experience

David - Audiologist for Hearing Aid UK
Medically Reviewed By:
David

Audiology Expert at Hearing Aid UK

Updated: 23rd May 2024
Hearing Loss and Diabetes

Hearing Loss and Diabetes

What's the connection between hearing loss and diabetes?

 

Hearing loss and diabetes overview

Diabetes can contribute to hearing loss by damaging blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Individuals with diabetes are more prone to sensorineural hearing loss. Monitoring blood sugar levels, regular hearing screenings, and early intervention with hearing aids can help manage this complication and improve quality of life.

In this article, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatments available.

 

Association between diabetes and hearing loss 

Hearing loss and diabetes are two medical conditions that affect a significant portion of the UK's population. While they may seem unrelated, studies have shown that there is a strong correlation between the two, as diabetes can have a negative impact on hearing health, leading to hearing loss.

 

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way your body processes glucose or sugar. The pancreas produces insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar levels, however, people with diabetes either cannot produce insulin or cannot use it properly.

High blood sugar levels can cause damage to blood vessels and nerves, which can lead to a variety of health problems including hearing loss.

 

How can diabetes cause hearing loss?

The inner ear contains tiny hair cells that are responsible for detecting sound waves and sending signals to the brain. These hair cells require a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to function properly. So, when blood sugar levels are consistently high it can cause damage to the blood vessels that supply the inner ear.  This can lead to hearing loss.

Diabetes can also cause damage to the nerves that transmit signals from the ear to the brain. This can lead to a condition called auditory neuropathy, which can cause difficulties in processing sound and understanding speech.

Studies have shown that people with diabetes are twice as likely to develop hearing loss compared to people without diabetes.  However, the severity of hearing loss can vary depending on the individual and how well their diabetes is managed.

This is why it is important for people with diabetes to maintain healthy blood sugar levels to reduce the risk of hearing loss and other health complications. 

 

What if you have diabetes and think you might have hearing loss?

Regular hearing screenings can help detect any changes in hearing before they become more significant.  If you have diabetes and are experiencing any changes in your hearing, seek professional help from a hearing healthcare provider

An audiologist can perform a hearing test and determine if any further testing or treatment is necessary.  An early diagnosis allows for prompt treatment and better outcomes.

 

What are the treatments for hearing loss caused by diabetes?

Treatment options for hearing loss due to diabetes are the same as any other cause.  This may include hearing aids, cochlear implants, or other assistive devices. In some cases, medication or surgery may be necessary to treat underlying conditions that contribute to hearing loss because of diabetes.

Prevention is key when it comes to hearing loss and diabetes. Ideally, you should maintain healthy blood sugar levels, quit smoking, and manage other risk factors that can help reduce the risk of hearing loss and other complications associated with diabetes.

 

Can diabetes be prevented?

Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Can you prevent getting diabetes?

 

Can I lower the risks of developing diabetes?

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder that is not currently preventable. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, which is the more common form of diabetes.  These tips include:

 

  • Maintain a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Try and aim for a healthy weight by eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Eat a balanced diet: Focus on eating a variety of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and healthy fats. You should also limit your intake of processed foods, sugary drinks, and high-fat foods.
  • Get regular physical activity: Regular physical activity can help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Try and aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, as well as other health problems. If you smoke, quitting can help improve your overall health and reduce your risk of developing diabetes.
  • Limit alcohol consumption: Drinking alcohol in moderation is generally considered safe for most people. However, excessive alcohol consumption can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.  If you choose to drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
  • Get regular check-ups: Regular check-ups with your doctor can help identify early warning signs of diabetes. If you have a family history of diabetes or other risk factors, your doctor may recommend additional tests or monitoring.

 

In conclusion

Hearing loss and diabetes are two medical conditions that are closely linked. People with diabetes are at a higher risk of developing hearing loss due to damage to the blood vessels and nerves that support hearing.

However, managing blood sugar levels and other risk factors can help reduce the risk of hearing loss and other health complications associated with diabetes. Regular hearing screenings can also help detect any changes in hearing early on.

 

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Common FAQs about hearing aids and hearing loss

Is this the best model for me?

If you are looking at this page then it is likely that an audiologist has suggested that you purchase this particular hearing aid, so is this the best model for you?

In general, any audiologist will always be recommending to you the model that best suits your needs. Here is a useful check list to make sure that is the case.

  • Audiologist level of knowledge. The audiologist you have seen will hopefully have a wide knowledge of all available hearing aids, however some will only be familiar with a small number of brands and therefore may not really be in a position to know which model is the best for you. It is OK to challenge their recommendation and ask them to justify why this particular brand is the one for you.
  • Do research. Read about the hearing aid that was recommended. Does it seem like it will suit your lifestyle? Does it have more or less features than you need? 
  • Be aware of sales targets. Many high street retailers have specific tie-ins to a particular manufacturer/brand. The hearing aid they have suggested may still be the correct one for you, but do your research so that you know why they might have recommended it.

If in doubt, feel free to give us a call. That's what we're here for.

Do I need one hearing aid or two?

If you have a significant hearing loss in both ears, you should be wearing two hearing aids. Here are the audiological reasons why:

Localisation. The brain decodes information from both ears and compares and contrasts them. By analysing the miniscule time delays as well as the difference in loudness of each sound reaching the ears, the person is able to accurately locate a sound source. Simply put, if you have better hearing on one side than the other, you can't accurately tell what direction sounds are coming from.

Less amplification required. A phenomena known as “binaural summation” means that the hearing aids can be set at a lower and more natural volume setting than than if you wore only one hearing aid.

Head shadow effect. High frequencies, the part of your hearing that gives clarity and meaning to speech sounds, cannot bend around your head. Only low frequencies can. Therefore if someone is talking on your unaided side you are likely to hear that they are speaking, but be unable to tell what they have said.

Noise reduction. The brain has it’s own built in noise reduction which is only really effective when it is receiving information from both ears. If only one ear is aided, even with the best hearing aid in the world, it will be difficult for you to hear in background noise as your brain is trying to retain all of the sounds (including background noise) rather than filtering it out.

Sound quality. We are designed to hear in stereo. Only hearing from one side sounds a lot less natural to us.

What are the benefits of rechargeable hearing aids?

For most people, the main benefit of a rechargeable hearing aid is simple convenience. We are used to plugging in our phones and other devices overnight for them to charge up. 

For anybody with poor dexterity or issues with their fingers, having a rechargeable aid makes a huge difference as normal hearing aid batteries are quite small and some people find them fiddly to change.

One downside is that if you forget to charge your hearing aid, then it is a problem that can't be instantly fixed. For most a 30 minute charge will get you at least two or three hours of hearing, but if you are the type of person who is likely to forget to plug them in regularly then you're probably better off with standard batteries.

Rechargeable aids are also a little bit bigger and are only available in behind the ear models.

Finally, just like with a mobile phone, the amount of charge you get on day one is not going to be the same as you get a few years down the line. Be sure to ask what the policy is with the manufacturer warranty when it comes to replacing the battery.

 

Are behind the ear aids better than in the ear aids?

For most people, the answer is yes. But it's never that simple.

The majority of hearing problems affect the high frequencies a lot more than the low ones. Therefore open fitting hearing aids sound a lot more natural and ones that block your ears up can make your own voice sound like you are talking with your head in a bucket. Therefore in-ear aids tend to be less natural.

However the true answer is we can't tell until we have had a look in your ears to assess the size of your ear canal, and until we have tested your hearing to see which frequencies are being affected.

People with wider ear canals tend to have more flexibility, also there are open fitting modular CIC hearing aids now that do not block your ears.

There is also the age old rule to consider, that a hearing aid will not help you if it's sat in the drawer gathering dust. If the only hearing aid you would be happy wearing is one that people can't see, then that's what you should get.

Most people can adapt to any type of hearing aid, as long as they know what to expect. Have an honest conversation with your audiologist as to what your needs are.

What are channels, and how many do I need?

Generally speaking, six or more. Unless it's none at all.

The number of channels a hearing aid has is often a simplistic way an audiologist will use to explain why one hearing aid is better than another, but channels are complex and it is really not that straightforward.

Hearing aids amplify sounds of different frequencies by different amounts. Most people have lost more high frequencies than low and therefore need more amplification in the high frequencies. The range of sounds you hear are split into frequency bands or channels and the hearing aids are set to provide the right amount of hearing at each frequency level.

Less than six channels and this cannot be done with much accuracy, so six is the magic number. However, a six channel aid is typically very basic with few other features and is suitable only for hearing a single speaker in a quiet room. The number of channels is not what you should be looking at, it's more the rest of the technology that comes with them.

As a final note, different manufacturers have different approaches. One method is not necessarily better than any other. For example some manufacturers have as many as 64 channels in their top aids. Most tend to have between 17 and 20. One manufacturer has no channels at all.

Where can I get the hearing aids covered?

Hearing aids are easily lost, misplaced or damaged and typically are one of the most expensive personal possessions an individual can own. We offer hearing aid warranty cover for £80 per year per aid.  Find out more here

How much does the hearing test cost?

All our audiologists use the very latest technology and provide the full range of tests to accurately measure your hearing for free.  Find out about what we offer all our customers here

Do home visits cost extra?

Hearing Aid UK offers all their customers free home visiting services and home visits for hearing aids - Including hearing tests, fittings, maintenance, check-ups and much more in the comfort of your own home and at your convenience.  Find out more information here

How come you're much cheaper than other places?

Here, at Hearing Aid UK, we are dedicated to offering low hearing aid prices. We achieve this by having no head office and low marketing costs.   Our hearing aid prices are amongst the lowest you will find anywhere in the world.

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