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Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is one of the many problems experienced by diabetics, which are often put down to ‘just getting on a bit’ rather than being linked to their diabetes. Actually Type 2 diabetes and hearing loss have been medically linked for many years, and it is recommended that diabetics should have regular hearing tests as part of their routine screening.

The hearing loss experienced by diabetics has different causes and characteristics from the hearing loss associated with old age. However, many diabetics consult a specialist about the deterioration in their hearing, without mentioning that they are diabetic, so the link is not made.

How does diabetes cause hearing loss ?

There are a number of ways the ears can be affected by diabetes, and hearing loss is frequently the result. Diabetics tend to have a lack of keratin protein which forms a protective layer within the ear canal, enabling wax to travel outwards, and preventing over stimulation of the ear canal tissue. Absence or abnormal levels of keratin protein can lead to hearing problems.

Diabetes can also lead to hearing loss as it causes deterioration of the epithelial tissue in the ear canal. This can make the ear canal overly sensitive to the type of plastics commonly used in hearing aids, and can cause yeast, fungus, irritation and infection within the ear, particularly when the air circulation is limited by a hearing aid.

A third link between diabetes and hearing loss, is neuropathy or nerve damage, which is a common complication experienced by diabetics. High blood sugar levels associated with diabetes can cause chemical changes in the body’s nerves that can impair their ability to transmit signals. When this nerve damage occurs in the ear’s neurological system, people can experience problems hearing and understanding speech and also speaking themselves.

Is the link between diabetes and hearing loss limited to diabetes type 2 ?

As Type 2 diabetes and hearing loss have been linked in the past, it is usually associated with getting older. However, there is some research that now suggests children with Type 1 diabetes are also likely to experience hearing loss at an early age. The incidence and severity of hearing loss seems to be relative to how long they have had diabetes and how well their glucose levels are controlled.

Other symptoms of ‘old age’ can be due to diabetes

Recent research has been looking to see if there is a link between diabetes and hair loss. Again, many diabetics put their hair loss down to getting older, and don’t realise it may be linked to their condition. Hair loss can be caused by a number of factors including the stress on the body of coping with diabetes, and various diabetes related conditions including thyroid problems or PCOS. Hair loss should reduce when glucose levels are well maintained.

Often high blood pressure can be linked to diabetes, and hair loss can be caused by the medication used to treat this. Once the medication is changed or stopped, hair loss should reduce.

In the same way as diabetes and hearing loss, and diabetes and hair loss, deterioration of vision is often accredited to old age rather than diabetes. Diabetics can experience retinopathy which damages the vessels that supply blood to the retina. This can cause a gradual decline in vision.

Laser treatment is very effective in halting this gradual deterioration in vision, and is successful in 80% of cases, but early diagnosis is crucial. Diabetics should have regular eye tests, and get checked out as soon as they believe their sight to be deteriorating, rather than simply assuming it is a symptom of old age.

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