Woman with diabetes thinking about hearing loss.

Studies show that you are twice as likely to struggle with hearing loss if you have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. That may surprise those of you who automatically associate hearing loss with getting old or noise trauma. Almost 500,000 of the1.9 million people diagnosed with diabetes in 2010 were below the age of 44. Evidence shows that 250,000 of those younger people with the disease probably have some form on hearing loss.

A person’s hearing can be impaired by several diseases besides diabetes. Getting old is a significant factor both in disease and hearing loss but what is the relationship between these conditions and ear health? These diseases that cause hearing loss should be taken into consideration.

Diabetes

It is not clear why people with diabetes have a higher chance of hearing loss or even if diabetes is related to hearing loss, but the clinical evidence does point in that direction. A condition that indicates a person might develop type 2 diabetes, called prediabetes, causes people to lose their hearing 30 percent faster than people who don’t have it.

While there are some theories, researchers still don’t understand why this happens. It is feasible that high glucose levels could cause damage to the blood vessels that feed the inner ear. Diabetes is known to affect circulation, so that is a realistic assumption.

Meningitis

Hearing loss is a symptom of this infectious disease. 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 who have this condition will also lose their hearing, either partially or completely. Among the American youth, this infection is the second leading cause of hearing loss.

The delicate nerves that send signals to the inner ear are potentially injured by meningitis. Without these signals, the brain has no way of interpreting sound.

Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease is an umbrella name that covers ailments that involve the heart or blood vessels. This category contains these well-known diseases:

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

Commonly, cardiovascular diseases have a tendency to be linked to age-related hearing loss. Damage can easily happen to the inner ear. Injury to the inner ear causes hearing loss when there is a change in blood flow and it doesn’t get the oxygen and nutrients that it needs to thrive.

Chronic Kidney Disease

A 2012 study published in The Laryngoscope found that people have an increased risk of losing their hearing if they have this condition. A separate study found that chance to be as high as 43 percent. However, this connection may be a coincidence. There are many of the same risk factors with kidney disease and other ailments connected with high blood pressure.

Another hypothesis is that the toxins that build-up in the blood as a result of kidney failure could be the cause. These toxins could damage the nerves in the inner ear, closing the connection it has with the brain.

Dementia

Dementia and hearing loss have a two way effect on each other. There is some evidence that cognitive deterioration increases a person’s chances of getting conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. Brain shrinkage and atrophy are the causes of dementia. That process is accelerated by hearing loss.

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

Mumps

At an early age the viral infection mumps can cause children to lose their hearing. The reduction in hearing may be only on one side or it may affect both ears. The reason this occurs is the virus damages the cochlea in the inner ear. It’s the part of the ear that sends messages to the brain. The good news is mumps is pretty scarce nowadays due to vaccinations. Not everyone who gets the mumps will experience hearing loss.

Chronic Ear Infections

For most individuals, the random ear infection is not much of a risk because treatment gets rid of it. However, the small bones of the inner ear or the eardrum can take serious damage from constantly recurring ear infections. This type of hearing loss is called conductive, and it means that sound cannot get to the inner ear with enough energy, so no signals are sent to the brain. Infections can also lead to a sensorineural hearing loss, which means nerve damage.

Many of the illnesses that can lead to hearing loss can be avoided by prevention. A healthy diet, plenty of exercise and regular sleep habits really help with protecting your ear health throughout your life. You should also get regular hearing exams to make sure your ears stay healthy.