It is a known fact that people with diabetes are counselled to take care of their feet and consult their eye specialist periodically. But with several studies indicating a link between diabetes and hearing loss, doctors say hearing assessment may soon become a part of diabetes evaluation.
Quoting various studies, including one by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Bangalore-based audiologists say hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease.
“Hearing loss may be an under-recognised complication of diabetes. As diabetes becomes more common, the disease may become a more significant contributor to hearing loss. We have been seeing several persons with moderate hearing loss who either have a family history of diabetes or are diabetic,” says Krishna Kumar, director of Rajan’s Speech and Hearing Centre.
“Early signs include hearing hissing noise or buzzing in the ears, constantly asking people to repeat themselves, needing to sit closer in class to hear the teacher, and people noticing that you watch TV or listen to the radio with very loud volume,” he explains.
Seconding the audiologist’s views, Surekha B. Shetty, consultant diabetologist at the state-run Karnataka Institute of Diabetology (KID) says most of the times people tend to ignore the problem as hearing loss is asymptomatic.
“Research shows that hearing loss is more common in younger diabetics. In certain syndromes of childhood diabetes, hearing impairment may be a specific clinical feature. This is an emerging health issue and it is most likely that hearing assessment may soon become a part of diabetes management,” she says.
Audiologist M.S.J. Nayak, who heads Nayak’s Hearing Care Clinic, says the ears are affected by a number of factors such as advancing age, heredity, noise, medicines and other factors apart from diabetes.
“Any one of these could cause hearing loss among the elderly. But I have been seeing young patients with unequal moderate hearing loss. If the extent of hearing loss is equal in both the ears it could be age-related. But if it is unequal, it could be because of some other factors including diabetes,” he says.
Mr. Krishna Kumar says diabetics may also be more prone to having wax build-up in their ears. “There are studies to prove this. This is because keratin, which helps clear the ear of wax, is said to be absent or decreased in diabetics. The result is wax that builds up quickly in the canal and in a short time leads to blockage. This prevents sound from reaching the eardrum, and produces a type of hearing loss called air conduction deafness.”
Both these audiologists assert that like a diabetic foot, the eardrums once injured can be slow to heal or remain perforated for a long time.
“Hearing loss can be prevented or minimised in the early stages. Hearing problems should get the same importance and recognition as other preventive conditions such as blindness, heart disease, and diabetic foot problems,” he adds.