Diabetes has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the 2022 National Diabetes Statistics Report, some 37 million Americans have diabetes, while 96 million have prediabetes. About one in five people with diabetes doesn’t know they have it. Many people are not aware of the risk factors for diabetes, or whether they are at an elevated risk.
In order to spread awareness of diabetes, the American Diabetes Association hosts American Diabetes Month every November. The ADA takes this month to educate about the risk factors for diabetes, stress the importance of careful management, and share the stories of those who are living with diabetes.
Those with Diabetes Are at an Elevated Risk of Hearing Loss
A study found in 2008 that those with diabetes are at twice the risk of hearing loss as those who are not affected by diabetes. Those with prediabetes see a 30% elevation in risk for hearing loss.
We still don’t know exactly why diabetes seems to promote hearing loss, but some researchers suspect it has to do with elevated blood sugar directly damaging the delicate, tiny blood vessels in the structures of the inner ear. This is a similar mechanism by which diabetes causes damage to the eyes and kidneys, and seems a likely hypothesis. Careful management of diabetes is important in order to keep blood sugar levels in the normal range.
Risk Factors: How to Gauge Your Risk for Diabetes
There are two kinds of risk factors for any medical issue: “non-modifiable” and “modifiable.” Non-modifiable risk factors are things you cannot change, while modifiable risk factors are things you can control to help reduce your risk.
Non-Modifiable Risk Factors for Diabetes
There are a number of “non-modifiable” risk factors of which you should be aware. While there is nothing you can do to change these, knowing them helps you to understand how closely you and your doctor should monitor the situation in case diabetes develops.
- Family Medical History – If there is diabetes in your family’s medical history, you are at a significantly increased risk for diabetes. The closer the relatives who have or had diabetes, the greater your risk will be.
- Race/Ethnicity – Some racial and ethnic groups in America are at a statistically increased risk for diabetes. These groups include African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Latino/Hispanic-Americans, Native Americans, and Pacific Islanders.
- Age – Type 2 diabetes tends to develop in those who are over the age of 40, with the risk increasing with age. In recent years, however, doctors have diagnosed more children and teens with type 2 diabetes.
- Gestational Diabetes – If you had diabetes while pregnant, you are at a higher risk for developing diabetes again later in life.
Modifiable Risk Factors
These are risk factors that you can—and should—change as soon as possible. The more modifiable risk factors you address, the lower your risk for diabetes.
- Body Weight – Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest risk factors for diabetes. For those who are obese, losing 5–10% of your body weight will significantly reduce the risk for diabetes, with a greater decrease as more weight is lost. Talk to your doctor about what your “target weight” may be, and how you can achieve it.
- Physical Exercise – More physical activity decreases the risk for diabetes. Even a fast-paced walk lasting 30 minutes, 5 days a week, offers a significant drop in risk. Physical activity lowers insulin resistance, meaning the body uses its insulin more effectively. 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity, aerobic exercise is optimal.
- Diet – A healthy diet is critical for mitigating the risk of diabetes. Recent research also found that an anti-inflammatory diet—such as DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) or AMED (the Alternate Mediterranean Diet)—significantly reduced the risk of hearing loss, independently of any risk for diabetes.
- Smoking/Alcohol – Quitting smoking is crucial for overall good health. Heavy alcohol use (more than 14 drinks/week) can cause the pancreas to become inflamed, reducing insulin production. Alcohol also increases blood sugar.
- Stress and Sleep – Getting more or less than 7–9 hours of sleep appears to increase the risk of diabetes—so does chronic stress. Stress and poor sleep can work together in a feedback loop that can be hard to break. Try to find some time to relax before going to bed, so by the time you are ready to sleep you’ve allowed your limbic system to calm down. This can help you get better sleep and set you up for a less stressful day ahead!
Whether you have diabetes, hearing loss, or you’re simply due for a hearing test, make an appointment and take advantage of American Diabetes Month by getting your hearing checked!