If you are one of the 37 million Americans living with diabetes, you already know there can be many complications to look out for down the line. From heart and kidney disease to vision problems, however one of the lesser known complications from diabetes can be hearing loss.
Diabetes and Hearing Loss
As mentioned before, hearing loss is one of the possible long term complications of diabetes. While the exact cause is unknown, we do know that small blood vessels and nerves can be damaged by consistently high blood sugars.
Hearing loss that occurs in the inner ear is called sensorineural hearing loss. It can present differently in each ear but is often considered permanent.
Signs and Symptoms of Hearing Loss
If you have diabetes, you should closely monitor your hearing for any changes. It is sometimes assumed that hearing loss is obvious to the person experiencing or that it is like having the overall volume reduced. Both of these are common misconceptions.
Because hearing loss from diabetes is often gradual and slow, it can take years for someone to notice changes to their hearing. Furthermore, when hearing loss does occur it tends to effect different frequencies of sound at different rates. We will discuss this further in the “Test your Hearing” section.
These are some general signs and symptoms to be aware of if you have diabetes.
- Asking others to repeat themselves- You might find that you are asking others to repeat themselves more often, or possibly other people are mentioning this to you.
- Comments on the volume of your television- Additionally, you might notice that you are turning up the volume higher than you used to on your television or car radio. Like before, this is also something that your friends and family may point out to you instead.
- Difficulty understanding- It is commonly said among those with hearing loss that they can hear, they just can’t understand someone. This has to do with the different frequencies that can be effected in hearing loss, making understanding language more challenging.
- Avoiding conversations- When conversations, on phone or in person, become more difficult, they also become more tiring. This can cause someone to avoid social situations altogether in order to also avoid the frustrations of listening.
Test your Hearing
If you find you are experiencing any of these symptoms of hearing loss or that a friend or family member has suggested that you see a hearing health provider, you should consider making an appointment with an audiologist.
When you visit an audiologist for the first time you can expect to go over your past medical and occupational history. This is because there are many risk factors for hearing loss including diseases, like diabetes, but also, age, noise exposure, medications, and specific employment history. For example, construction workers or landscapers may have a higher risk for hearing loss due to the noisy job environment. They will then talk about any signs or symptoms you have experienced.
Following this, you will likely be asked to sit for a hearing test, or audiogram. For the audiogram, you will sit in a small sound proof room with headphones and a hand held clicker. Beeps of various pitches and frequencies and at different volumes will play in both of your ears separately and then together.
The results from your audiogram will print in graph form. The vertical axis, or y axis, is the volume in decibels and the horizontal axis, or x axis, will have the frequency of the sound. Both ears will be mapped on the same graph with the red line showing one ear and blue line showing the other.
This information is good for a few reasons. The first is that even with no hearing loss, an audiogram can provide a great baseline for your hearing tests in the future. The other good thing is that it allows for individualized treatment.
In the case that hearing aids are recommended for your hearing loss, your hearing aids will be programmed based on the results of the audiogram. Therefore if you have frequencies that are in the normal range, the hearing aid won’t alter or amplify that sound at all, only the sounds needed.
Ultimately, diabetes requires close monitoring not only for blood sugar levels but also for potential complications. If you suspect any changes to your hearing, consult an audiologist as soon as possible.