Diabetes is a very common condition that affects how well your body regulates blood sugar levels, and can affect various aspects of your health.
In terms of your hearing, it’s the effect that diabetes can have on your blood vessels and nerves that can cause issues with your ears, sometimes causing an ‘injury’ to the inner ear which can affect your hearing. 1-7
Here, we take a look at how diabetes can impact your hearing, and what you can do to maintain your hearing health.
Can high blood sugar cause hearing loss?
In short, yes.7 While it’s unclear exactly what happens, scientists have found that high blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels in the inner ear, affecting the blood circulation in that part of your ear.8 Unstable blood glucose levels can also put you at greater risk of hearing loss.9
High blood sugar can affect the tiny hair cells in your ear, the protective covering of the nerves, or block certain sensory receptors in the ear.10, 11,12
If you have diabetes you may start to notice subtle changes to your hearing, particularly with high-frequency sounds.13, 14 For example, you may find vowel sounds easy to identify, but the letters f, s, t and z, may be more difficult for you to notice. Or sounds with higher octaves, like birdsong, may not be as clear.
Can low blood sugar cause hearing loss?
Your hearing can also be affected if you have low blood sugar, and we know a little more about why this is.15
Research has found that low blood sugar is one of the factors that can create a chemical imbalance in the fluid found in your ear. 16, 17 This fluid has a very specific make-up which allows the cochlea to function properly, so if this is altered it can change the way your ear processes sounds.
If you have low blood sugar for a long period and suspect any change in your hearing, it’s a good idea to get your hearing checked. Read about the symptoms of hearing loss here.
Will diabetes increase the risk of ear infections?
People with diabetes have an increased risk of infection and related complications. One type of common ear infection is malignant otitis externa, which only affects diabetic people.
This is an infection of the external ear canal and skull base, which usually affects older people with diabetes.18 The infection is caused by bacteria and can spread to surrounding areas (like the jawbones or face) if it’s left untreated. 19
Sudden hearing loss can be a symptom of this infection, so you should get your ears checked out quickly if you are diabetic and experience sudden hearing loss.
Diabetic people can also be at a higher risk of developing inner ear infections due to excess insulin.20
So controlling your insulin levels and having regular check-ups are important to avoid both of these types of infection. 21, 22
How to protect your ears if you have diabetes
- Keep your blood sugar levels under control and exercise regularly
- You may be more susceptible to infection so you should seek treatment as soon as possible if you think you have any injuries or infections in your ears
- Protect your ears from prolonged exposure to high noise levels
- Quit smoking as it can increase the risk of hearing loss21
If you have diabetes you may experience hearing loss to some extent, but maintaining stable blood sugar levels should help you reduce the impact of your diabetes on your hearing.
If you have any concerns about your hearing, or if you just want to see how your hearing is, you might benefit from a free hearing test. Our audiologists can test your hearing and answer any questions you might have. To book an appointment for a hearing test, find your nearest store and book online.
To learn out more about hearing loss, you can find more information and articles on our hearing loss hub.
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