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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jeff Baller

This November, Test Your Hearing in Honor of American Diabetes Month

Our health is a complex web of connections, with no part of the body operating in isolation of the others. When we have challenges to our wellbeing that appear in one aspect of health, there can be a temptation only to address that aspect of bodily functioning in isolation. For instance, if you find out that you have hearing loss, it might seem intuitive to direct treatment only at the ears and auditory nervous system. Although this direct approach makes sense for the ears, it is important to consider the connections between hearing loss and other aspects of health. In the case of diabetes, there is a powerful connection between the two conditions. In fact, those who have diabetes are twice as likely to have hearing loss than those who do not have diabetes. Even those who have pre-diabetes levels of blood glucose have 30 percent higher rates of hearing loss. These findings mean that it’s not enough to treat hearing loss in isolation. You can use a diagnosis of hearing loss as a cue to test for diabetes, as well. If you find that you have diabetes or pre-diabetes, your healthcare team can intervene with treatment and management strategies right away. Every November we celebrate American Diabetes Month as an opportunity to encourage support, care, and further research into diabetes. Getting a hearing test is one way to promote better diagnosis of diabetes, so why not honor American Diabetes Month with a hearing test? Let’s take a closer look at the link between hearing loss and diabetes to better understand how they are connected in the body and in the population.

Connecting Hearing Loss and Diabetes

Why are those with diabetes and pre-diabetes so much more likely to have hearing loss than their counterparts who do not have the conditions? Experts are actively seeking answers to better understand the connection between these two conditions. Currently, there are at least three prevailing explanations for the connection. In the first place, the elevated levels of blood glucose might be enough to reduce the supply of oxygen and other nutrients to the ears. The tiny, hairlike organelles of the inner ear, called stereocilia, are highly sensitive to fluctuations in the blood composition. The same sensitivity that makes it possible to distinguish between different sounds, voices, or subtle regional accents in speech also makes the stereocilia sensitive to changes in the body. If they don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need, the stereocilia can suffer damage. A second potential explanation has to do with the likelihood that blood vessels break. Those who have diabetes tend to have more broken blood vessels throughout the body, including in the ears where they should be delivering healthy oxygenated blood. A final explanation points to the auditory nervous system. This system makes it possible to translate sound impulses in the ears to the brain. Those who have diabetes are more likely to have nerve damage, and that nerve damage can include the auditory nervous system, as well. These connections might occur in isolation of one another or in combination, so experts are continuing to explore what drives the powerful connection between diabetes and hearing loss.

Getting Tested

If you are concerned about this potential connection, the time is now to get a hearing test. If your test reveals that you have hearing loss, then you can pass along this information to your primary care physician. With that information in mind, you might be given testing and other diagnostic tools to see if you have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Studies show that 1 in 5 people have undiagnosed diabetes, so your hearing test might serve as a prompt to discover yet unknown diabetes. Why not take this opportunity to honor American Diabetes Month with a hearing test? This simple exam can serve as a warning sign of diabetes, potentially connecting you with the treatment and management strategies you need. Your doctor can guide you through the diagnostic process for diabetes, and a hearing test might be just the prompt you need to get started on the process of further testing for diabetes and other conditions that are correlated with hearing loss.

In Hearing Health, Hearing Testing by Jeff Baller, Au.D., CCC-ANovember 3, 2022. Reach out to us at for more information.

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