Why Hearing Tests Are Important for Diabetics
Most people who have diabetes realise that it is important to get their eyesight checked regularly. The imbalance of blood sugar that can happen in diabetes often damages the delicate structures of the retina, causing a condition known as diabetic retinopathy. This can cause vision loss as fluid builds up within the layers of the retina. If the central visual area, the macula, is affected, central blindness can develop.
Diabetes and Hearing LossBut what about hearing in diabetics? Are people with diabetes at any higher risk of hearing loss than people whose blood sugar remains normal? According to a recent study published in America, diabetics are about twice as likely to suffer hearing loss as they get older. The mechanisms responsible are not yet fully understood but medical experts agree that people diagnosed with either type 1 diabetes or type 2, the late onset form that generally appears in middle age, should keep up to date with hearing tests as well as eye checkups.
Impact of Hearing Impairment on DiabeticsThe research that looked at the proportion of diabetics who developed hearing problems as they got older also examined some of the effects of hearing loss on their daily lives. Their findings agreed with other studies that showed that a loss of hearing can lead to difficulty coping both with diabetes as a health condition, and with life generally. People who start to lose their hearing can become irritable and negative, life seems to be a greater effort and chronic tiredness, depression and stress are not uncommon. Increasing deafness can also make it more difficult for someone with diabetes to hold down their usual job, even though they have learned to integrate their diabetes treatment into their daily routine very well prior to losing their hearing.
Genetic Link between Diabetes and DeafnessOther research has uncovered an interesting link between the two conditions. A type of maternally inherited deafness and diabetes has been identified that is passed on from a mother to her children through a defect in the DNA in her mitochondria. These tiny cell structures exist outside the nucleus and have their own DNA. There are not many genes that affect health on mitochondrial DNA but one particular gene is associated with a non-insulin dependent form of diabetes that also causes sensorineural deafness.
The condition is only passed down from a mother to her children because mitochondria only come from the egg – the male sperm injects its DNA into the nucleus of the egg during fertilisation and its mitochondria remain separate from the fertilised egg.
Sudden Deafness Might be a Sign of DiabetesAlthough diabetes is the underlying condition that leads to deafness, the diabetes itself may not be diagnosed. Some older people find that they suddenly become very hard of hearing on one side for no obvious reason. Research that has looked at people that have sudden loss of hearing in one ear has found that as many as 16% of them have undiagnosed diabetes. These people also tended to have higher blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.
The evidence for the link between diabetes and hearing loss seems to be growing and the sensible advice is to keep a check on your hearing through telephone or online hearing tests, particularly if you are either a known diabetic, or you have some of the risk factors for type 2 diabetes. These include being over 40, being overweight, being female and having a sedentary lifestyle. You might also think about the findings of yet more research – that losing 7% of your body weight and doing 30 minutes of exercise just 5 times a week can prevent type 2 diabetes from developing. This sort of lifestyle change can also help reduce heart attack risk and, it could mean better ear health too.