Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Hearing Loss and Diabetes

Hearing Loss and Diabetes is becoming more common.

Hearing loss is common and even more so in those individuals exposed to high levels of noise during work and leisure activities.  Incidence and severity of hearing loss are much greater in individuals diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes compared to the general population.

The ears have a complex blood supply which is easily affected by the microvascular and neuropathic complications of diabetes. Hearing loss in diabetes has been described as a bilateral progressive lesion of the inner ear, predominantly affecting the higher frequencies. It is generally referred to by the medical jargon “sensorineural high-frequency hearing loss”. A sensorineural hearing loss is currently irreversible and therefore permanent.

Stem cell research is underway, but damaged cells in the human inner ear cannot yet be regenerated.

What is it like to have a high-frequency hearing loss?

A high-frequency hearing loss means a diminished ability to hear high pitched sounds. The normal human ear is able to detect very soft sounds from a very low frequency of 20Hz to a very high 20,000Hz.  Damage to the hearing system caused by diabetes may affect the ear’s ability to detect high-frequency sounds of soft and medium levels. In real life, it means that bird singing, phone ringing, doorbell and other higher pitched sounds cannot be heard as loud or at all.

Speech misunderstanding

Diminished hearing in the higher frequencies also affects conversation because certain sounds of speech cannot be detected or differentiated. Sibilant sounds such as “s”, “f”, “th” and “ch” for example, may not be heard or discriminated, making it difficult to distinguish between words like “fix”/”six”, “face”/”faith”, “chat”/”fat”, “deaf” /”death” amongst others.

Progressive hearing loss and diabetes

A high-frequency hearing loss, like in cases of diabetes, may go unnoticed as it slowly progresses. You may adjust to it as your hearing becomes gradually worse. In fact, in a quiet environment during a one to one conversation, it may not cause any significant problems.  Even when you don’t hear all the details, you may be able to intuitively guess some of the missing parts of the words spoken by a familiar speaker. Unfortunately, it may not be so easy to guess when you arrive in the middle of a conversation about an unfamiliar topic. Misunderstandings can happen!  “– Did you say fifty or sixty?”

Background noise enhances the problem

When trying to talk to a stranger at a social function, for example, the background noise appears very loud, yet the person speaking next to you may seem to be mumbling. You will hear the background noise very well because your low-frequency hearing is intact but will miss the high-frequency sounds of speech important to understand the whole conversation. People with a high-frequency hearing loss tend to avoid background noise situations and environments such as restaurants, pubs and parties.

Isolation, depression and cognitive decline

It is frustrating to go to parties and social gatherings but not be able to take part in the conversation. Not surprisingly many people give up and withdraw from social events. Lack of social contact may lead to depression and a more rapid cognitive decline especially in the elderly.

It is not uncommon for a person with an undiagnosed high-frequency hearing loss to be mistaken as rude, vague, forgetful and even senile. In fact, recent research shows that cognitive decline and dementia may be linked to untreated hearing loss. A high-frequency hearing loss may be the reason for all the misunderstandings, confusion and apparent memory impairment! Early diagnosis and intervention prevent the unwanted consequences of a hearing loss.

Solving the Problem of Hearing Loss and Diabetes

Preventing a hearing loss by maintaining a healthy body is by far the best option.

There are solutions available to relieve the consequences of a hearing loss and early intervention is best practice. Don’t wait until your hearing loss is well established to look for help.Audiology Testing for Diabetes and Hearing Loss

An audiologist is the best placed professional to provide hearing assessment and rehabilitation.
Hearing Loss and Diabetes needs professional support.

Your GP may be your first port of call and you should ask to be referred to an independent audiologist with no links to any commercial enterprise such as hearing aid manufacturers.

The audiologist will assess your hearing to establish the degree of your hearing loss and the site of the lesion. Based on audiological assessment your audiologist will be able to guide you to choose the most appropriate course of action to minimise the impact of hearing loss on your quality of life.

Options available to improve hearing and communication

Different communication strategies may be implemented to minimise the effects of your hearing loss. Audiological intervention using a family focus approach ensures that improved communication starts at home. Auditory training (hearing exercises) may be prescribed to improve your brain’s ability to discriminate the difficult sounds helping you to keep involved in a conversation.

Technology is very effective to enhance hearing. The most common solution is usually in the form of hearing aids, as long as they are optimally set to each individual hearing loss. Hearing aids are personal amplifiers which need to be precisely fitted to the unique shape of your ear and tuned to your individual hearing loss. They are digitally programmed to process a range of incoming sounds to be amplified to an audible level and to reduce loud sounds to a safe and comfortable level.

There are also other assistive listening devices such as remote microphones to improve conversation in noise and from a distance, as well as wireless connections to the hearing aids from your mobile phone, computer, tablets, MP3 player, television etc.

Other problems linked to hearing loss and diabetes – caused by type 2 diabetes

Tinnitus is the medical term to describe noises such as ringing, hissing, humming, roaring, or any other sound present in your ears or head which are not related to any external sounds. Tinnitus is usually nothing more than a symptom of a hearing loss. Treating the hearing loss is the most effective way to reduce tinnitus perception.

Balance loss may also be associated with diabetes and it may be caused by damage to the vestibular system in the ear due to lack of blood flow. The organs of hearing and balance are located in the inner part of the ear and share the same lymphatic fluids. It is not uncommon for hearing and balance loss to be present in cases of diabetes.


The Effect of Diabetes on Sensorineural Hearing Loss http://journals.lww.com/otology-neurotology/Abstract/2003/05000/The_Effect_of_Diabetes_on_Sensorineural_Hearing.6.aspx