How diabetes affects our hearing and balance

Family Health
Apr 19, 2022

Trouble hearing or experiencing dizziness? The St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Oto-Neurology can help.

If you or a loved one have diabetes, your doctor probably warned you that the disease can lead to complications with your eyes, kidneys and feet. But did you realize that diabetes also can affect our ears, disrupting our hearing and balance?

“I don’t think people realize the connection between diabetes and our inner ear structure,” says Shea Stromberg, clinical audiologist with the St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Oto-Neurology. “So it’s important to educate the public to be aware of it and for patients to communicate when something has changed so we can help them.” Shea Stromberg

Studies have shown that people with diabetes are twice as likely to experience hearing loss compared to those without diabetes, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Additionally, hearing loss in people with diabetes can present earlier in life compared to others. The risk of loss of hearing is even greater with common diabetic comorbidities such as neuropathy, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

Related Article: Peripheral neuropathy: Understanding diabetes effects on your feet

Another study by the CDC shows diabetes is associated with significantly higher odds of vestibular loss, as well as more severe vestibular damage in people who’ve had diabetes for a long duration, had higher A1C levels and other complications of the disease. The study went on to show that people with diabetes who suffer vestibular loss were two times more likely to experience falls.

(Vestibular loss is a balance disorder when signals from the ear to the brain are disputed causing dizziness and a spinning sensation.)

Related Article: How physical therapy is treating vestibular disorders

So how does diabetes affect our inner ear structure?

Diabetes, especially uncontrolled, can lead to nerve damage that affects many parts of the body, including our hands, feet, eyes and kidneys – the body parts you are commonly warned about. But as more and more research and studies show, diabetes also can cause nerve damage in your ears, Stromberg says.

Over time, high blood sugar levels can damage the small blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. Low blood sugar levels over time can damage how the nerve signals travel from the inner ear to your brain. Both types of nerve damage can lead to hearing loss.

“Diabetes can affect blood flow and cause damage to our blood vessels,” Stromberg says. “Now think about how tiny the structures are in our inner ear? That puts them at higher risk of complications much earlier and more severely than other, larger structures.”

What can you do about it?

Anyone diagnosed with diabetes should always follow their doctor’s orders when it comes to medication, diet, exercise and not smoking.

Related Article: Have diabetes? You better put that cigarette down.

Regarding hearing loss and imbalance, there are signs you can look for when you may need to seek diagnostic testing. These include:

  • Asking people to repeat themselves
  • Misunderstanding spoken words
  • Turning the television or radio up louder to hear it
  • Unsteadiness or a sense of spinning
  • Dizziness with quick movements
  • Vertigo with getting in or out of bed

At the St. Joseph’s/Candler Center for Oto-Neurology, our clinical audiologists offer comprehensive testing for patients of all ages with ear, hearing and balance disorders. They can then educate and make recommendations on how to improve your quality of life, such as communication strategies, vestibular physical therapy or diabetes management.

“We are a diagnostic facility focusing on diagnosing the presence of hearing loss or understanding the function of the ear and balance mechanism,” Stromberg says. “We are here to help educate you on how you are hearing and how your hearing loss affects your ability to communicate and then give you recommendations on what’s the next step.”

The Center for Oto-Neurology requires a referral to be seen. If you have diabetes or have concerns about hearing or balance ask your physician for a referral or call 912-819-2479.


Additional resource for people with diabetes

St. Joseph’s/Candler also offers an outpatient diabetes management program through our Center for Diabetes Management. With a physician’s referral, individuals with diabetes or at high risk of getting the disease can join our counseling program that promotes understanding of the disease and its management, teaches self-care skills and offers tips on preventing complications. Learn more on our website or call 912-819-6146.

How can we help you?