What You Need to Know about Diabetes and Your Ears

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By : Suvarna Sheth

Did you know that diabetes can also affect your hearing? You heard right:

According to the American Diabetes Association, nearly 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and an estimated 34.5 million have some type of hearing loss, and it appears there is a lot of overlap between the two.

Researchers don’t exactly know how diabetes is related to hearing loss, and more research needs to be done.

However, experts speculate that high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear, just as damage can occur to the eyes and the kidneys.

Hearing loss can happen slowly, and so patients may often not even notice the symptoms.

We speak to Shweta Gupta, an ENT specialized PA-C based in Southern Calif., to learn more about hearing and diabetes and what you can do to prevent hearing loss.

1. How common is it to come across diabetes patients with hearing problems?

It is very common to come across patients with diabetes who also have hearing loss. Studies have shown a correlation between diabetes and hearing loss.  In 2008 an NIH study showed that more than 50% of diabetics had hearing loss.

2. What should someone with diabetes do to make sure they are taking care of their ears?

Foremost, make sure to have your blood sugar level under control through diet. A regular exercise routine will help improve circulation and blood flow. Also, be sure to avoid scenarios where there is excessive noise.

3. Is hearing loss possible in someone with diabetes? How?

Yes, it is. This is due to high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes which causes damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear. This impacts the circulation to the inner ear. Without a good blood supply, the hair cells that help translate noise do not regenerate causing sensorineural hearing loss.

 4. Are there any specific ear infections that someone with diabetes is prone to getting?

Yes, patients with diabetes have an increased risk of having malignant otitis externa, which is an infection of the outer ear. It can sometimes spread to surrounding tissue, including the bones of the jaw and face. Unlike swimmer’s ear, malignant otitis externa isn’t due to water remaining in the ear canal. It is often caused by bacteria such as Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Staphylococcus aureus. Over 90 percent of people who develop malignant otitis externa have diabetes.

5. What age do such infections typically affect diabetes patients?

This can be at any age depending on the type and severity of diabetes the patient exhibits.

6. What are signs someone with diabetes should look for when it comes to ear health?

Be sure to monitor your hearing. Other signs of hearing loss may be asking others to repeat themselves frequently, trouble following conversations that involve more than two people, and feeling people are mumbling when they are speaking to you.

Other signs may be trouble hearing in loud places such as restaurants or airports. Turning up the TV volume when the sound is fine for others may be another sign.

7. How should one (with or without diabetes) best take care of their ears?

Avoid putting anything in your ear, avoid extremely loud noises. Also, make sure to have your ears checked on a routine basis. Make sure you have a conversation with your doctor and have a full hearing exam. If he/she suspects a problem, you may see a hearing specialist who specializes in hearing problems.