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Is Diabetes Really The Culprit of Hearing Loss?

Do you ever feel like you just get over one hurdle and another one appears? That's how I feel about diabetes. It seems like almost once a week I read articles or research that reassures me I’m at risk for something else. Well, this week it’s hearing loss. Look, I don't mean to be a downer here but Gawd, can't those of us with diabetes ever get a break? Ok. I’ve stated my disappointment. Now let's get on with what the issue is, or in this case, what it could be.

Causes of hearing loss

When I received the latest mailout from Diabetes Canada, there was an article in regards to hearing loss. As I took a look at the article, it was disclosed that it was written by a private company. Right there, they lost me for a moment. I read it but was very skeptical. As I explored further, it turns out that more research needs to be done to determine the causes of hearing loss as it may not be solely related to diabetes and there are a lot of question marks to find answers to. There are many reasons for hearing loss.1,3 Many are beyond diabetes as the culprit. Here are some examples:

  1. Aging (rolling my eyes—I’m not a fan of this one since I turned 60 this year)
  2. Wax or something else in the ear (cotton fluff off Q-tips)
  3. Virus, bacteria or damage after infection (damage that may have been done from previous ones)
  4. Loud noises (music or job sites such as construction)
  5. Trauma
  6. Birth defects or heredity
  7. Certain types of medication (cancer drugs)
  8. Other diseases

And the list goes on!

Type 2 diabetes and hearing loss

Because the topic was about diabetes and hearing loss, a couple of things were common in all the articles I read:2

  1. Diabetes may be one cause
  2. There appears to be a higher incidence of hearing loss in women with diabetes
  3. It seems that the longer you have diabetes (<8 years) the more likely moderate to severe hearing loss can occur

Does type 2 diabetes really cause hearing loss?

Now let’s unpack this. Because there are so many other potential causes of hearing loss, it's difficult to ascertain whether it is from diabetes alone, other causes, or a combination of many factors. It also appeared more common that women are the ones who report they have hearing loss. Women report it more when asked. In a couple of references, there was no data to back up the loss, no testing done. So, how valid is it? And let's face it, the longer you have diabetes and if not well controlled, the more you are at risk for many complications, hearing loss only being one. According to the American Diabetes Association:2

“It's possible that the high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear, similar to the way in which diabetes can damage the eyes and the kidneys.”

Look, I’m not saying we should ignore signs of hearing loss, we shouldn’t; nor am I saying that it’s not valid if only women report more, but before we go jumping ship and blaming diabetes (any type) for it, we need to have testing done to determine the cause and possible solutions. And, like with any other potential diabetic complication, we have to try our best to get our blood sugars in the best range we can for ourselves.2 That avoids the many complications we could be subjected to including hearing loss.

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