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The Connection between Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Diabetes has long been recognised as a contributor to visual impairment, but did you know it also has a connection to hearing loss? This little known fact has only been confirmed in recent years, writes Corrina Trimarchi.

While diabetes has long been recognised as a contributor to visual impairment, its connection to hearing loss has only been confirmed in recent years and, as yet, has not been as widely promoted.

In 2008 the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) identified a connection between diabetes and hearing loss, noting that diabetes sufferers are twice as likely to experience hearing loss than those who don’t suffer from the disease. The study also noted that those who have elevated blood glucose levels but haven’t yet developed diabetes are 30 percent more likely to suffer from hearing loss than those with normal blood glucose levels.

These findings were supported by a 2009 study conducted by the University of Sydney, which also found that accelerated hearing loss progression over the 5 year study period was more than doubled in persons newly diagnosed with diabetes. It noted that Type 2 diabetes is associated either with an increased prevalence or earlier onset of sensorineural hearing loss; similar to the hearing loss we associate with the process of aging.

Diabetes is a chronic disorder in which a person has high blood sugar, either as a result of the body not producing enough insulin, or because cells do not respond adequately to the insulin that is produced. Diabetes Australia labels the condition a ‘silent pandemic’, with over 1 million Australians diagnosed with the disease and significantly more remaining undiagnosed, unaware that their health issues are arising from the condition.

It has been noted that many undiagnosed sufferers remain ignorant of their condition until their symptoms become quite extreme, with Diabetes Australia estimating 4 undiagnosed sufferers for every 5 diagnosed.

Whilst the impact of diabetes on sight, kidney health, cardiovascular well-being and the circulatory system are well known, its effect upon hearing has only been recognised in recent times.

Health professionals believe diabetes affects your hearing in the following ways:

  • High blood glucose levels produced by diabetes cause chemical changes in the blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear, affecting the body’s ability to transmit sound.
  • Diabetes causes the walls of the cochlea to thicken and lose hair cells. Hair cells in the inner ear are essential for both hearing and balance.

There are two main types of diabetes:

  • Type 1 diabetes – characterised by the auto-immune destruction of the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas
  • Type 2 diabetes,- the most common form, characterised by a reduced production of insulin and an inability of the body tissues to respond fully to insulin.

Treatment for Type 1 diabetes, which is characteristically an early-onset condition, requires the management of blood sugar levels through daily insulin injections whilst Type 2 diabetes sufferers are required to manage their blood glucose levels through a combination of medication, diet and exercise. In addition, treatment is often also required to lower cholesterol and blood pressure levels. The prevalence of type 2 diabetes, in particular, rises with age and is higher in men than in women. Australia’s Indigenous population, however, experiences a much higher diabetes incidence rate, approximately 3 times that of non-Indigenous Australians, affecting more women than men.

The statistics recording the rising incidence of diabetes are overwhelming. Driven by rising obesity, the result of poor dietary choices and a more sedentary lifestyle, combined with our rising population, it is estimated that up to 3 million Australians will be suffering from diabetes by the year 2025. However, it has also been estimated that the elimination of obesity could potentially reduce the incidence of diabetes in Australia by up to 40%.

The significance of this information is that it allows sufferers of diabetes, or those with characteristics of diabetes, to seek early diagnosis and pursue preventative treatment to combat the onset of hearing loss. The first port of call is to consult an audiologist.

During her 15 years as an audiologist, Audioclinic’s Head Audiological Trainer, Amanda Brown, has observed the significant difference that early detection and action can have on a person’s life.

Amanda emphasises the need for early intervention as an imperative to not only improve hearing capacity, but also as a means of maintaining optimum brain function. Amanda explains that the functionality of hearing relies upon the interaction of the ear as the transport system and the brain as the interpreter of the signals.

The simple act of hearing, something that we take for granted, actually stimulates the brain, maintaining it at its optimum, whilst hearing loss, which results in a decline in brain activity in the auditory domain, compromises the brain’s functionality. Amanda points out that delaying treatment for hearing loss can contribute to long term brain atrophy, and emphasises that, once auditory deprivation has occurred, the brain’s functionality in this area cannot be recovered.

Therefore, she is an ardent advocate of early diagnosis and treatment, noting that “hearing aids are now discreet and comfortable and continue to stimulate the brain to prevent auditory deprivation, with better outcomes achieved in the long term.” For diabetes sufferers, or those registering high blood sugar levels, early detection is vital to prevent the debilitation of their hearing, the potential long term effects on their brain function and the social disengagement that results from hearing loss.

  • Based on a 2012 survey, it takes an average of 7 years before a person does something about improving their hearing
  • 87% of respondents were able to hear the TV and or conversations better after they were fitted with a hearing device
  • 77% of respondents said that having the hearing device fitted has improved their overall quality of life
  • 70% of respondents said that having the hearing device fitted has improved their social life, especially in relation to interacting with family and friends

AudioClinic customers are 13% more likely to recommend AudioClinic to their friends and family for quality hearing solutions than any other hearing healthcare provider.

Janet Slater is one such progressive client, who has offered to share her experience of hearing restoration. Janet’s hearing deteriorated progressively over an extended period until she realised that she was becoming detached from family, friends and her community. After consulting Audioclinic, she purchased her first hearing device almost 20 years ago, describing the exhilaration of “ hearing sounds as clear as when I was a child”.

Currently utilising the enhanced technology of the Oticon/Agil, with Bluetooth technology, Janet described her amazement when it was first fitted by AudioClinic: “I was amazed at the clarity of human speech. In my quiet little courtyard on that first summer afternoon I delighted in hearing the softer sounds of the local community: distant voices, birds, a laughing child, sounds brought on the breeze, and later a rain shower.

“I felt so much more in life again, which may be a little bit like being in love again. It is a joyful feeling to participate fully in human communication, to hear the words not just small portions of speech sounds.” Janet encourages anyone experiencing hearing difficulty to organise a free hearing test. “AudioClinic did mine, then you know where your hearing is at, and you can make an informed decision with the options.

“If it is beneficial for you to purchase a hearing instrument, remember that your hearing consultant/technician is on hand to assist at all times. During the first few weeks I needed such assistance to overcome difficulty in the fit of the aid, and this was rectified quickly. Any other tweaks that I put to my audiometrist at AudioClinic were attended to, and I continued feeling comfortable in my choice of purchase.  For me the financial outlay of purchasing Oticon/Agil is worth the positive outcome of enhancing my hearing capability – I would choose a hearing instrument over an overseas holiday any day because of what it gives me every day – beautiful hearing”.

Audioclinic is able to provide specialist diagnostic services and guide clients to the most appropriate treatment for their hearing loss. A simple 30 minute clinical assessment is all that is required and, as a government- accredited hearing provider, Audioclinic able to provide subsidised services to eligible pensioners and veterans. So, if you’re experiencing difficulty hearing, don’t hesitate to contact Audioclinic for a free assessment at one of our 200 + clinics across Australia.

For a free hearing check-up simply call 1800 042 568 to speak to an experienced Audioclinic staff member.




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Alana Lowes

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