The Diabetes, Hearing Loss, and Balance Connection
Our ears play a role in keeping us balanced as we perform everyday tasks such as walking, climbing stairs, and even lowering our bodies to take a seat in a chair. Part of an intricate network involving our eyes, brain, and ears, our vestibular system is constantly working to help us maintain our equilibrium and balance. What happens to this system when you have diabetes?
Approximately 30 million people in the United States have diabetes. Of those, around 90-95% have Type 2 diabetes, which is characterized by your body’s inability to respond to insulin efficiently, or its inability to make enough. Studies show that hearing loss in patients with Type 2 diabetes is nearly twice as common than non-diabetic patients, and management of your blood sugar is critically important not only for your overall health but your hearing and balance health as well. Hear what Dr. Serpa has to say about how the connection:
What’s the Connection?
One of the well-known characteristics of diabetes is sustained high blood glucose levels. Over time, this can damage the small blood vessels throughout your body, including kidneys, eyes, circulatory system, and nerves. Research suggests the auditory nerve and vast network of blood vessels surrounding your ears are damaged when diabetes is not well-managed over an extended period. Because the blood vessels that feed your auditory and vestibular systems lack a “backup” blood supply, any damage to these structures is permanent.
Unfortunately, physicians aren’t always aware of the connection between hearing, balance, and diabetes. Only about 13% of physicians regularly screen diabetes patients for hearing loss, and may not connect mild hearing loss or balance issues a patient may be experiencing with their diabetes. Complications from diabetes such as foot and leg neuropathy, vision disturbances (retinopathy), and decreased mobility all increase the risk of falls and injury for patients with the disease. Some diabetes medications also produce side effects such as tinnitus, “brain fog,” and dizziness.
If you suspect you may be experiencing hearing loss and/or are experiencing dizziness, vertigo, disequilibrium (unsteadiness, imbalance, spatial disorientation) or feel lightheaded upon standing up quickly, contact your doctor and audiologist to schedule an assessment. There are therapies and equipment available to help mitigate your risk of falls.
What Can I Do?
Of course, the number one action to take is to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. We understand this can be difficult, but the more tightly controlled your blood sugar, the higher your chances of keeping your hearing sharp and the lower your risk of falls. Other ways to help your hearing and balance if you have diabetes:
Together with your other healthcare providers, audiologists are a vital resource for helping you maintain your quality of life as you manage your diabetes. We are on your team!
For more information, see theaudiologyproject.com
Support Research Efforts!
Dr. Serpa and Hearing Resources Audiology Center are proud supporters of JDRF – the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Please consider making a donation to help find a cure for diabetes.
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We’re ready to help you with your hearing health. Call us at 503-774-3668 and take the first step toward reconnecting to your world.