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Woman with diabetes thinking about hearing loss.

Studies show that people who have diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss, according to the American Diabetes Association. If you are someone that associates hearing loss with getting old or noise damage, this might surprise you. In 2010, 1.9 million people were diagnosed with diabetes and close to 500,000 of them were under the age of 44. Some kind of hearing loss probably affects at least 250,000 of the younger people with this disease.

A person’s hearing can be impaired by several diseases other than diabetes. Besides the obvious aspect of aging, what is the link between these conditions and hearing loss? Consider some illnesses that can lead to hearing loss.

Diabetes

It is unclear why people with diabetes have a higher occurrence of hearing loss or even if diabetes is connected to hearing loss, but the clinical evidence does point in that direction. People who have prediabetes, a condition that implies they may 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 conclusive answer as to why this happens, there are some theories. It is feasible that harm to the blood vessels that feed the inner ear may be caused by high glucose levels. Diabetes is known to influence circulation, so that is a realistic assumption.

Meningitis

This infectious disease causes loss of hearing. Meningitis by definition is swelling of the membranes that cover the spinal cord and brain, commonly due to infection. Studies show that 30 percent of people will lose their hearing partially or completely if they get this condition. This infection is the second most common cause of hearing loss among the American youth.

Meningitis has the potential to injure the delicate nerves that allow the inner ear to send signals to the brain. The brain has no way to interpret sound if it doesn’t get these signals.

Cardiovascular Disease

Ailments that impact the heart or blood vessels are covered under the umbrella term “cardiovascular disease”. This category contains these well-known diseases:

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

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 might not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs to thrive, and injury to the inner ear then leads to loss of hearing.

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. It is possible that this relationship is a coincidence, though. There are many of the same risk factors with kidney disease and other conditions associated with high blood pressure.

Another hypothesis is that the toxins that build-up in the blood due to kidney failure might be the cause. The connection that the nerves have with the brain could be closed off because of damage to the ear by these toxins.

Dementia

The connection between loss of hearing and dementia goes both ways. There is some evidence that cognitive deterioration increases a person’s risk of getting conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Brain shrinkage and atrophy are the causes of dementia. Trouble hearing can hasten that process.

It also works the other way around. As damage to the brain increases a person who has dementia will have a decline in their hearing even though their hearing is normal.

Mumps

Mumps is a viral infection that can cause children to lose their hearing when they’re very young. The decrease in hearing could be only in one ear or it might affect both ears. The reason why this happens is the virus damages the cochlea in the inner ear. It’s the component of the ear that sends signals to the brain. The good news is mumps is pretty scarce these days due to vaccinations. Not everyone who has the mumps will experience hearing loss.

Chronic Ear Infections

For the majority of individuals, the occasional ear infection is not very risky since treatment gets rid of it. However, the small bones of the inner ear or the eardrum can be seriously damaged by repeated ear infections. This kind of hearing loss is called conductive, and it means that sound cannot reach the inner ear with enough energy, so no signals are transmitted to the brain. Infections can also lead to a sensorineural hearing loss, which means nerve damage.

Prevention is the key to steering clear of many of the diseases that can cost you your hearing. Throughout your life protecting your hearing will be achievable if you exercise regularly, get the right amount of sleep, and have a healthy diet. You should also get regular hearing exams to make sure your ears stay healthy.