Woman with diabetes thinking about hearing loss.

Studies indicate that you are twice as likely to have hearing loss if you have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. This statistic is surprising for people who picture hearing loss as a condition associated with growing old or noise damage. In 2010, 1.9 million people were diagnosed with diabetes and almost 500,000 of them were under the age of 44. Some form of hearing loss probably impacts at least 250,000 of the younger people with this disease.

A person’s hearing can be damaged by several diseases besides diabetes. Apart from the apparent factor of the aging process, what is the relationship between these conditions and hearing loss? Give some thought to some conditions that can lead to hearing loss.

Diabetes

It is unclear why people who have diabetes have a higher chance of hearing loss or even if diabetes is related to hearing loss, but the clinical research does point in that direction. People who have prediabetes, a condition that indicates they could develop type 2 diabetes, tend to lose their hearing 30 percent faster than those with normal blood sugar levels.

While scientists don’t have a definitive answer as to why this occurs, there are some theories. It is feasible that high glucose levels could cause damage to the blood vessels that feed the inner ear. Diabetes is known to impact circulation, so that is a realistic assumption.

Meningitis

Hearing loss is a symptom of this infectious disease. Meningitis by definition is inflammation of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain, normally due to infection. Studies show that 30 percent of people will lose their hearing partially or completely if they develop this condition. Among young people in America, this infection is the second leading cause of hearing loss.

Meningitis has the potential to injure the fragile nerves which allow the inner ear to forward signals to the brain. Without these signals, the brain has no way of interpreting sound.

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term that relates to conditions that impact the heart or blood vessels. This category contains these common diseases:

  • Stroke
  • Heart failure
  • Atherosclerosis
  • Peripheral artery disease
  • Heart attack
  • High blood pressure

Age related hearing loss is generally linked to cardiovascular diseases. Injury can easily happen to the inner ear. When there is a change in blood flow, it may not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to thrive, and damage to the inner ear then leads to hearing loss.

Chronic Kidney Disease

A 2012 study published in The Laryngoscope found that people with this condition also had an increased risk of hearing loss. A separate study found that chance to be as high as 43 percent. However, this connection could be a coincidence. Kidney disease and other ailments associated with high blood pressure or diabetes have lots of the same risk factors.

Toxins that collect in the blood as a result of kidney failure might also be the culprit, theoretically. These toxins may damage the nerves in the inner ear, closing the connection it has with the brain.

Dementia

The link between hearing loss and dementia goes both ways. There is some evidence that cognitive impairment increases a person’s chances of developing conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Brain shrinkage and atrophy are the causes of dementia. Trouble hearing can accelerate that process.

The flip side of the coin is true, as well. Someone who develops dementia even though there is normal hearing will show a decline in their hearing as injury to the brain increases.

Mumps

At an early age the viral infection mumps can cause children to lose their hearing. Hearing loss might affect both ears or only one side. The reason why this happens is the virus damages the cochlea in the inner ear. It’s the part of the ear that sends signals to the brain. The good thing is mumps is pretty rare these days due to vaccinations. Not everyone who has the mumps will experience hearing loss.

Chronic Ear Infections

Treatment gets rid of the occasional ear infection so it’s not very risky for the majority of people. For some, however, repeated infections can wear out the tiny pieces that are required for hearing such as the eardrum or the small bones in the middle ear. This kind of hearing loss is called conductive, and it means that sound cannot get to the inner ear with enough energy, so no messages are sent to the brain. Sensorineural hearing loss or nerve damage can also be caused by infections.

Many of the diseases that can cause hearing loss can be avoided by prevention. A healthy diet, plenty of exercise and regular sleep habits will go a long way to protecting your ear health throughout your life. You should also get regular hearing exams to make sure your ears stay healthy.