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Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Posted on November 10, 2019 | No Comments on Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Diabetics are counseled to take care of their feet and see their eye doctor every year. Soon, they will need to take hearing tests on a regular basis, too.

This is the recommendation of researchers of a new study that has shown that hearing loss is twice as common in adult diabetics as in non-diabetics. The study is one of the many studies that have continued to come out to establish the role of diabetes in the development of hearing loss.

For years, this relationship between diabetes and hearing loss was not fully supported. Although a lot of research was done on this issue, still most of the information that came out was inconclusive and obscure. The ear in particular was a difficult area to study, and this may have contributed to the gaps in knowledge.

For one, the ears are affected by a number of factors such as advancing age, heredity, noise, medicines, and viruses, aside from diabetes. Any one of these could cause hearing loss. Isolating a single factor is a tricky task. Improvements in research techniques have managed to overcome this problem.

Furthermore, the actual hearing organ, the cochlea, cannot be examined directly. The cochlea, which is the part of the inner ear that converts sound energy to nerve impulses, is very small and protected by very hard bone. Even with special equipment, this organ is hard to reach. The structures inside are delicate and are easily damaged. Because of the risk of inducing hearing loss themselves, researchers have often used animal models to understand the function of the human ear and learn how it is affected by disease.

The studies that do involve human subjects are actually post-mortem investigations—autopsies of deceased person’s ears. Individuals, who donate their bodies to science after they die, were hard to come by before. To get one body which had both hearing loss and diabetes was even harder. Without the appropriate ears to study, research lagged for years and the link was not established.

But in 2005, a group of researchers published several articles in the journal Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery that were able to establish this connection. Using post-mortem ears as subjects, the researchers found that the ears of individuals who had type 1 or type 2 diabetes had more damage to their cochlea. They also observed that the damage to the cochlea shared the same characteristic pathology as the other diabetic complications. Their conclusion that hearing loss was a likely result of the diabetes, provided one of the stronger evidences for this suspicion in years.

More studies were to come in support of this link. Data gathered at the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for Rehabilitative Auditory Research in Oregon confirmed that not only was hearing loss more likely to be found in diabetic patients, the hearing loss was present in younger patients. This finding was echoed by another study, which was a survey done in a community to detect hearing loss from various causes. Not only did the researchers find cases of hearing loss among diabetic residents, they discovered the problem to be present in all age groups.

But they were particularly concerned that some of the people affected were actually unaware of their hearing loss, despite having poor hearing test results.

Another study that came out showed that diabetics may be prone to having wax build up in their ears than most people. This is because a substance, called keratin, which helps clear the ear of wax, is said to be absent or decreased in diabetics. The result is wax that builds up quickly in the canal and in a short time leads to blockage. This prevents sound from reaching the eardrum, and produces a type of hearing loss called air conduction deafness.

The deleterious effect of diabetes on the ear drum has been studied, too. In an interesting experiment using animal models, researchers found a difference among diabetic rats, whose eardrums were deliberately punctured and observed for healing, than normal rats. They found these rats had ear drums that healed slower than expected or developed persistent holes. Thus, like a diabetic foot, the eardrums once injured can be slow to heal or remain perforated for a long time.

Because of the many studies that have come out, there is a move now among specialists to implement a program that would institutionalize routine ear care and hearing loss prevention among diabetics. They share the view of many researchers that hearing loss can be prevented or minimized in the early stages. Such a program should reach the same prominence and recognition as the programs that prevent blindness, heart disease, and diabetic foot problems. In the near future, an annual hearing test would become a routine step in diabetic management similar to an annual eye check up.

Because no such programs exist for now, it is important for diabetics to work closely with their physicians. If you believe you have a hearing problem, you should not ignore it. Some of the early signs may include hearing hissing noise or buzzing in the ears, constantly asking people to repeat themselves, needing to sit closer in class to hear the teacher, and people noticing that you watch TV or listen to the radio with very loud volume.

Remember, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. Hearing loss is preventable.

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