Diabetes: A Possible Risk for Hearing Loss

Did you know that hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes compared to those without the disease? Or that experts say that one in three people with diabetes will develop hearing loss?

The cause of diabetes-related hearing loss has been debated for several decades. Researchers theorize that hearing loss results from damage to blood vessels in the inner ear. Elevated blood sugar levels can also damage the hair cells and nerves surrounding the inner ear. Unlike other structures in our bodies, the inner ear does not have a backup supply of blood flow, leaving it vulnerable to elevated blood sugar levels. If the blood vessels are damaged, blood flow is reduced which can cause permanent damage to the structures in the inner ear.

Researchers have added diabetes to a long list of potential risk factors for developing hearing loss including genetics, aging, noise exposure and ototoxic medication. Diabetes-related hearing complications tend to strike earlier than other risk factors. Otolaryngologist Yuri Agrawal from Johns Hopkins University explained to everydayhealth.com, "Hearing should be considered a diabetes-related complication. Our research suggests a dose-response relationship. Having higher A1c results means a greater risk of hearing loss as well."

The acronym A1c is actually short for HbA1c. The "H" stands for hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is a protein found in red blood cells. Although there are several types of hemoglobin in our bloodstream, the most common type is "A." Hemoglobin A1c binds to glucose, that is why HbA1c testing is commonly used to diagnose and treat people living with diabetes. Routine lab work for the maintenance and care of diabetes often includes A1c testing, which can diagnose both Type I and Type II diabetes. In addition to diagnosis, results provide a historical overview of blood sugar control over a few months rather than a meter reading that provides immediate results. The American Diabetes Association likens A1c test results to the season batting average for a baseball player; rather than results from a single day, results paint a bigger picture of how well blood sugar levels are being managed. That is why the long-term results of A1c testing are often used to predict the risk of developing diabetes-related health complications.

What can you do to lower your risk?

Keeping A1c levels within the recommended range is just one way to reduce your risk of diabetes-related health complications. A healthy lifestyle that includes exercise and a nutritious diet can keep A1c levels low and daily blood glucose readings within recommended ranges. Reducing the risk of diabetic related-health complications will also minimize the risk of developing hearing loss.

As the number of people living with diabetes continues to rise it is estimated that nearly one third of the population will have diabetes by the year 2050. Individuals with diabetes should routinely screen cardiovascular health as well as the health of their eyes, kidneys and ears. Adherence to the recommended screening protocols can reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications and identify any problems that arise early. Diligent management of the disease can delay or even prevent additional health complications.

By Beth McCormick

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