Every November, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) hosts American Diabetes Month (ADM). The ADA uses the month to promote greater awareness of the risk factors for diabetes, to emphasize the importance of managing prediabetes and diabetes, and to help share the stories of those with diabetes around the country.
Hearing Loss Risk Elevated in Those with Diabetes
Hearing loss is twice as common in people with diabetes than in those who do not have the disease. And those with prediabetes have hearing loss at a rate 30% higher than those with normal blood sugar.
There are some 96 million adults with prediabetes in the U.S., and over 37 million with diabetes, according to the National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2022. What’s more, one out of five people with diabetes don’t yet know they have it.
It is not clear why diabetes and prediabetes tend to increase the risk for hearing loss. One thread of current research is investigating whether elevated blood sugar can directly damage the tiny blood vessels in the delicate organelles inside the inner ear. In a similar way, diabetes can cause damage to the eyes and kidneys, but more research will be needed to determine the exact mechanism. It does appear that careful management of diabetes can help protect against hearing loss.
Risk Factors for Type 2 Diabetes
There are two kinds of risk factors that are frequently spoken about in medicine. “Non-modifiable” risk factors cannot be changed, though it is still good to be aware of them. “Modifiable” risk factors have to do with lifestyle and activities, which you can (and should) change.
Non-Modifiable Risk Factors
- Family Medical History – Having a blood relative with diabetes increases your risk of developing it. The closer the relative, the greater the increase in risk. You should make sure your doctor is aware of any family members who have diabetes.
- Race/Ethnicity – Americans who are of African, Asian, Latino/Hispanic, Native American, or Pacific Islander descent have an increased risk for diabetes.
- Age – The risk of diabetes increases as we age. Typically, diabetes develops during middle age, after age 40, though doctors have been seeing more children and teens with diabetes.
- Gestational Diabetes – If you have had gestational diabetes (temporary diabetes, while pregnant), you have a higher risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Modifiable Risk Factors
These are the risk factors for diabetes that you should change as soon as possible. You can make a significant reduction in your risk of developing diabetes, even if it is in your family history, if you make certain changes in your lifestyle.
- Body Weight – Overweight and obese people are at a higher risk. If you are overweight, dropping 5–10% of your body weight can significantly reduce your risk, and the risk decreases even more as you lose more weight. Talk to your doctor about your target body weight and what you can do to reach it.
- Physical Activity – Those who are more physically active have a lower insulin resistance, meaning their body can use its insulin more efficiently. A brisk walk lasting as little as 30 minutes, five days a week, has been found to reduce the risk of diabetes—as well as heart disease.
- Diet – Eating healthy foods in the right proportions is essential for preventing type 2 diabetes. The American Heart Association recommends eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, vegetable oils, poultry without skin, legumes, and unsalted nuts and seeds. They also recommend avoiding trans fats, red/processed meat, refined carbohydrates, sweetened drinks, cholesterol and salt, and replacing saturated fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Recent research has also found that an anti-inflammatory diet—such as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)—can significantly reduce the risk of hearing loss, independently of your risk for diabetes.
- Smoking/Alcohol – Smoking increases your risk for diabetes, with the risk increasing with the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Heavy alcohol use (more than 14 drinks/week) causes pancreatic inflammation, limiting its ability to produce insulin. Alcohol is also high in sugar.
- Stress/Sleep – It’s important to try to limit stress and get the right amount of sleep. We all have stressors in our life, but we can help limit their effect on our health by carving out some time to relax at the end of a day and prepare to get a good night’s rest. Getting too little or too much sleep have both been linked to an increased risk for diabetes—it’s best to aim for 7–9 hours per night.
By addressing your modifiable risk factors for diabetes, you’ll not only promote better health, but you’ll feel better and elevate your quality of life at the same time! As an added benefit, the modifiable risk factors for diabetes are some of the same for hearing loss, independently of any risk you may have for diabetes.