Diabetes, Tinnitus, And Hearing Loss: How These Three Conditions Are Related

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Assortment of items related to diabetes

Diabetes is a commonly known co-morbid condition of hearing loss, and hearing loss is a common comorbidity of tinnitus, so, the transitive property begs the question, then: is diabetes related to tinnitus and hearing loss? Although we know that uncontrolled diabetes can lead to high blood pressure and other circulatory issues which can can negatively impact the overall function of the inner ear, the precise commonality of these conditions remains something of a mystery to the average person. While diabetes and hearing loss may not initially seem to go hand in hand, developing hearing loss in response to uncontrolled diabetes is not unheard of. We will go into greater detail about the links between diabetes, hearing loss, and tinnitus below.

What Is Diabetes?

First, let’s take a closer look at diabetes. Diabetes is a chronic health condition involving metabolic function. The body turns food into energy in a complicated, multi-step system, which involves breaking food down into sugar (or glucose) and subsequently releasing it into the bloodstream. As blood sugar rises, the pancreas releases insulin to promote the movement of sugar into cells to be used as energy.

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Someone with diabetes will not make enough insulin, or will not use insulin as effectively as is necessary to maintain balanced blood sugar levels. Over time, when cells stop responding to insulin or there isn’t enough to go around, high blood sugar levels remain in your bloodstream, which leads to serious health problems such as heart disease, vision loss, and kidney disease.

Diabetes: Important Facts

Estimates suggest that 28.7 million people around the world have diagnosed diabetes, while 8.6 million have diabetes but have not been formally diagnosed — overall, this is around 11% of the population (over 37 million people). Diabetes can impact all social, socioeconomic, and ethnic backgrounds, making it a common condition across countless people and people groups. That being said, 26.4 million people who are aged 65 years or older have prediabetes, or symptoms of diabetes that have not yet crossed the threshold to warrant an official diagnosis.

Types Of Diabetes

Although many people think of diabetes as a single, specific condition, there are two distinct types of diabetes with their own unique root causes and expressions. However, there are certainly commonalities between both diabetes diagnoses.

Chart explaining the different types of diabetes

Type 1 Diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is considered an autoimmune disorder, wherein the body’s cells no longer produce insulin as needed. Those with type 1 diabetes need to take insulin every day to survive, frequently delivered via an insulin pump. Type 1 diabetes is not reversible and cannot be managed through diet and lifestyle modifications in less severe cases. It can affect people of all ages.

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is more often related to lifestyle choices and habits. In this type of diabetes, the body develops insulin resistance, and is no longer able to use insulin effectively to keep blood sugar at normal levels. Type 2 diabetes develops over many years, and is most often diagnosed in adults. This type can be prevented or delayed with healthy lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Losing weight
  • Eating healthy food
  • Being active

Gestational Diabetes

Gestational diabetes is so named because it only affects pregnant women. The development of this condition can put your baby at risk in utero, and also increases your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life. Children who are born to mothers who received a diagnosis of diabetes during gestation are more likely to be diagnosed as obese in childhood or as a teenager, and may also be at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes in adulthood.

Pre-diabetes

In pre-diabetes, blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to receive a diagnosis of diabetes. Pre-diabetes does raise your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Happily, with some simple modifications to diet and lifestyle, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes is significantly reduced.

Diabetes And Its Link to Hearing Loss, Tinnitus, And Balance Disorders

Like the rest of the body, the inner ear requires glucose and insulin delivery to develop energy required to hear. Healthy glucose levels facilitate healthy hearing, while excess glucose in the blood can damage the blood vessels and the auditory nerve. Over time, damage to blood vessels can deprive the inner ear of oxygen-rich blood. This leads to further damage as diabetes remains uncontrolled, leading to hearing loss and even tinnitus and damages to the vestibular system, which is used for balance. Most balance disorders linked to diabetes are related to damages done to the circulatory system and resulting peripheral neuropathy of the feet, rather than damages to the inner ear.

Man getting his insulin tested via a finger prikc

A study completed in 2021 revealed that there is an association between tinnitus and diabetes. People with diabetes who also experienced symptoms of tinnitus were more likely to develop symptoms of neuropathy as well. Duration of diabetes was linked to the severity of reported tinnitus symptoms; in effect, the longer diabetes went untreated (10+ years), the greater tinnitus symptom severity was reported.

The connection between diabetes and hearing loss is well-known, and those with diabetes are almost twice as likely to develop hearing loss as people with normal blood sugar levels within the same age bracket. People with pre-diabetes are 30% more likely to develop hearing loss than those with typical blood sugar levels. The onset of diabetes is also linked to conditions like high blood pressure, which has also been linked to hearing loss and tinnitus. High blood pressure damages the small blood vessels in the body, including those that provide the inner ear with oxygen-rich blood. Damage to these small blood vessels can eventually cause hearing loss and tinnitus.

What Does Sugar Do To Ringing Ears?

Person eating a plate of donuts

People with diabetes, and even pre-diabetes, have something called insulin resistance – meaning that the cells in muscles, fat, and the liver don’t actually respond to insulin, and can’t remove glucose from the bloodstream and take it into cells. Maintaining high blood glucose levels, then, as is the case with untreated diabetes, can cause permanent inner ear damage, resulting in both hearing loss and chronic tinnitus.

Eating sugar is part of a happy life and healthy diet, and does not need to be completely removed from a well-balanced diet – however, it is important to monitor sugar intake and corresponding glucose levels. Moderation is important to make sure that low blood sugar and high blood sugar alike do not occur. Occasional increases in sugar intake should not have lasting negative impacts on the inner ear or tinnitus symptoms, but nevertheless, some people do report significant and noticeable spikes in tinnitus symptoms when consuming large amounts of sugar. Paying attention to any changes that occur in your physiology following sugar consumption can help prevent surges of phantom sounds.

A Study On Insulin Resistance And Tinnitus

Studies have demonstrated that insulin resistance (also called hyperinsulinemia) can lead to higher or lower levels of tinnitus. Lifestyle changes, including diabetic diets, can help improve tinnitus symptoms. According to a 2003 study, 76% of participants who followed a diabetic diet for 4 months reported significant decreases in tinnitus severity. People with insulin resistance of diabetes may be able to improve their tinnitus by following a diabetic diet or making similar lifestyle choices. Diabetes education can be helpful here, for both the person affected and any family members with whom you share meals.

Diabetes And Hearing Loss — Both Common, Both Treatable

Prevention is the best and first step in effective health care. If prevention is no longer a viable option, it is important to take action to combat insulin resistance, as diabetes can affect far more than just your blood sugar levels. Working with a healthcare provider to determine your current blood sugar levels and developing a treatment plan to manage diabetes is the best course of action for your hearing and your overall quality of life; after all, diabetes can certainly cause hearing impairment, but it can also cause kidney failure, chronic pain, restricted blood flow, and far more.

Man getting a hearing test

If you are diagnosed with diabetes, it is an excellent idea to go in for a baseline hearing test with a hearing health professional. A professional can help determine if there is any damage to the inner ear, and create a plan for treatment or management. Untreated hearing loss can lead to additional, further complications and trouble hearing, so it is important to make sure you get an accurate diagnosis and effective treatment methods in place sooner rather than later.

While it can be unnerving to learn that you have diabetes or hearing loss – or both – the good news is that both are highly treatable, manageable conditions. Diabetes can be treated with insulin and various diabetes medications, in addition to dietary and lifestyle changes. For some, management and treatment change over time, with an initial plan involving medication, before moving to more lifestyle-based interventions. Once diabetes has been diagnosed, however, you should work closely with a healthcare professional to ensure that your body is receiving all of the support and care that it requires to continue to function and pursue health.

Hearing loss and tinnitus are also treatable conditions. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, and tinnitus management strategies can all be useful interventions to help limit the reach of hearing loss and tinnitus and stop them in their early stages as much as possible. Tinnitus Retraining Therapy (TRT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), and sound therapy are all common tinnitus treatments, though CBT can also be useful for hearing loss to soothe some of the emotional upsets that come along with diminished hearing.

Whether you have diabetes and hearing loss, or you are trending toward one or the other in some small capacity, rest assured that there are steps you can take to help limit the reach of these conditions and support your overall health.

Managing Tinnitus With Treble Health

At Treble Health, we specialize in helping individuals navigate the complexities of tinnitus – regardless of the cause. We know that finding adequate care for tinnitus can be a difficult, time consuming, and often, frustrating process, and our team is here to provide the guidance and support you need.

If you are looking for a way to treat your tinnitus, we encourage you to take the first step towards relief by scheduling a complimentary telehealth consultation with an audiologist on our team. In this free 20-minute Zoom session, we will discuss your unique situation, providing answers to your questions and personalized strategies to manage and alleviate tinnitus symptoms. We are committed to helping you regain control over your auditory world, guiding you towards a life of tranquility and well-being. Don’t wait; schedule your free consultation today and begin your journey to a quieter, more peaceful life.

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