More than 34 million Americans are estimated to have hearing loss, while about 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. In addition to there being a significant overlap in these two populations, research has also found that the 84 million Americans with prediabetes are 30 percent more likely to have hearing loss.
Diabetes occurs when the body is unable to produce or regulate insulin properly, which causing the buildup of glucose in the bloodstream. There are three types of diabetes:
- Type 1: Usually diagnosed in children or young adults. This type occurs when the pancreas produces little to no insulin and blood sugar builds up in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy by cells in the body.
- Type 2: More than 90% of diabetes cases are this type, which occurs when cells don’t respond properly to insulin (known as insulin resistance). The pancreas makes more insulin as a result, but it can’t keep up and blood sugar increases.
- Gestational: Developed in pregnancies by up to 10% of women. The body doesn’t make enough insulin during pregnancy as cells use the hormone less effectively.
Symptoms of diabetes include fatigue, increased thirst/hunger, frequent urination, blurry vision, weight loss and difficulty concentrating. Diabetes can lead to serious health concerns including heart failure, kidney failure, stroke, blindness and amputation.
The science behind the diabetes-hearing loss link is uncertain at this point, although experts believe it may be due to high blood sugar damaging the inner ear’s blood vessels and tiny hair cells. These hair cells help the brain recognize sounds. They do not regenerate – if they become damaged or die off, permanent hearing loss results.