One of the lesser known effects of diabetes is the progressive loss of hearing. To protect it, it is convenient to have a periodic examination of the hearing ability, but of the 285 million diabetics in the world, few know it. Find out the details in this article and watch your ears.
According to a study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), patients with diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing problems as people who are not diabetic. In general, more than 40% of the diabetics who were analyzed in the study experienced some degree of hearing loss .
The aim of the researchers was to find out if people with diabetes had more hearing problems than others.
The study, published online June 17, 2008 in the Annals of Internal Medicine , included data from hearing tests administered from 1999 to 2004 to participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Some of the participants had diabetes and others did not.
These tests measured participants’ ability to hear low, moderate, and high frequency sounds with both ears. In addition to the hearing tests, the researchers looked for information about the general health of the patients, not only regarding diabetes, but about any other problem that could affect the ear.
The relationship between diabetes and hearing loss was evident at all frequencies, with a stronger relationship on the high frequency scale. The higher incidence of hearing loss in diabetics did not seem to be related to other common causes of the problem, such as advanced age, heredity or noise.
The study had, however, some limitations. For example, the research was based on the information that the same participants gave about whether they had diabetes or not. The type of diabetes (type 1 diabetes or type 2 diabetes) that diabetics had was also not identified.
Another study conducted in Japan, led by Chika Horikawa, at Niigata University Faculty of Medicine , and published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism yielded similar results. In addition, the researchers found that young diabetics had a higher risk than older adults, although they could not explain the reason.
This study collected information from 13 previous studies to examine the relationship between diabetes and hearing loss, published between 1977 and 2011. In total, 7,377 diabetics and 12,817 people without the disease were investigated. The result: diabetics had 2.15 more chances of losing hearing than people who did not. Regarding the ages, participants under 60 had 2.61 more chances of losing their hearing. The risk presented by participants over 60 years was only 1.58 higher.
Why diabetes impairs hearing?
The elevation in glucose levels that occur in diabetes when it is not treated or not controlled over time, can damage the nerves and blood vessels of the body, causing, for example, vision problems , the nerves and the kidneys . These are complications that are known from diabetes. Because hearing depends on the nerves and small blood vessels in the inner ear, high blood glucose levels can damage them, decreasing the ability to hear.
The symptoms that you must take into account
Hearing loss happens little by little, and it is possible that the person who experiences it does not realize it. Often, family members and friends notice it earlier. It is important, therefore, that you know some symptoms to take action on time, whether or not you suffer from diabetes. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do you frequently ask other people to repeat what they say?
- Do you have problems following a conversation involving more than two people?
- Do you often think that those who talk to you are muttering?
- Do you have trouble hearing the voices of women or young children?
- To listen to the radio or television, do you have to raise the volume so much that it bothers others?
If your answers are affirmative, consult a doctor specialized in hearing problems (otolaryngologist), especially if you have diabetes. Perhaps it is a minor matter, like a wax plug in the ear , which is easily solved. But if it’s a more serious problem, the specialist can determine the cause and help you improve your hearing.
What else can you do?
The ideal is to prevent hearing loss and the first measure is to keep your hemoglobin A1c test levels below 7%. If you have already begun to have problems listening well, keeping A1c levels under control will also help you to delay the process.
But you must also protect your ears from noise, which sometimes happens without us noticing. Experts believe that the maximum sustained volume we can tolerate is about 85 decibels which is the point at which a person needs to scream to be heard over a background noise (for example, a radio on or the sound of the Vacuum cleaner). It is not healthy to remain at that level (in any noisy environment, such as people who work with machines that make noise) without protection for more than 4 to 8 hours. For every 3 to 5 decibels above 85, you must reduce the exposure time by half. Let’s say for example a musical concert in which the noise level on average is 101 to 110 decibels. You would not want to stay in the auditorium for more than an hour and a half. Even if you do not go to concerts frequently, the intense noises like that of the mechanical grass cutter (which reaches about 95 decibels), or the blowtorches of leaves or snow can also hurt you. Do you have to work with a noisy tool? Use earplugs (earplugs ), or take frequent breaks while using them.
The ears of diabetics, as I mentioned, need periodic reviews. The American Diabetes Association recommends that you visit an audiologist (for a hearing test) or a hearing doctor (otolaryngologist) every 2 to 3 years if you are under 50 years of age. And if you go over 50 and you already have a hearing loss, you should visit it every year.
Do not leave that visit for later. People with hearing problems tend to suffer more from isolation and depression and are generally less physically and socially active than those who hear well. There are so many beautiful things to hear that it’s worth protecting your ears from the potential damage your diabetes can cause. Do your part and follow the recommendations of your doctor.