Learning & Information | Rukuhia Te Puna Mātauranga

People with diabetes more likely to experience hearing loss

Having your hearing tested is a “smart idea” if you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes.

That was the message Life Unlimited hearing therapist Sue Jennings had for members of the Diabetes NZ Waikato branch Hamilton support group who gathered at the Hamilton RSA on 24 July.

For the 250,000 New Zealanders living with diabetes, many of the complications associated with the condition are well understood. Prolonged raised glucose levels in the blood can lead to damage to nerves (neuropathy) and blood vessels (vascular disease), commonly affecting eyesight, kidneys and the health of feet and lower limbs.

What is less well known is the growing body of research that confirms an increased prevalence of hearing loss in people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. That’s because the inner ear also relies on healthy blood vessels to support hearing.

Sue says although people with diabetes are more likely to be affected by hearing loss, many of them are not aware of the risk.

“For some people, it’s news to them. There’s an understandable focus on taking care of your eyes and feet, but there isn’t a big push on hearing. But it’s definitely part of the picture.”

For Sue, that’s a concern. In her role supporting New Zealand adults living with hearing loss, she comes face to face with the impact hearing loss has on quality of life, particularly the way it can cause people to withdraw from social life, leading to isolation.

That’s why Sue urges people to be more conscious of changes to their hearing, especially after they’ve been diagnosed with diabetes.

“Ask yourself: Am I missing the punchline? Is the TV louder than normal? Am I saying ‘pardon’ more often?”

But the best course of action is to have a hearing test right at the start of the diabetes journey. Having that initial baseline makes it easier to monitor hearing levels and respond before hearing loss impacts on daily life.

There is no cure for hearing loss, although Sue says managing diabetes is key. During her presentation to the Hamilton support group, Sue talked about some of the communication strategies and technology that she can help clients with so they can make the most of the hearing they have.

It was part of regular series of educational talks organised by local Diabetes NZ Waikato field officer Angelica von Reitzenstein for people in Hamilton living with diabetes.

She believes the health sector is more proactive in other parts of the world when it comes to recognising the link between hearing loss and diabetes. She’d like to see New Zealand doctors encourage their diabetic patients to check their hearing as standard.

“All medical practitioners saying all my patients with diabetes have hearing tests would be fantastic.”

And the good news is, a hearing test from a Life Unlimited hearing therapist is completely free and painless. All it takes is time. Call 0800 008 011 to book an appointment near you.

  • Learn more about living well with diabetes at Diabetes New Zealand.
  • Hearing Therapy provides free and independent hearing advice. The service, delivered by Life Unlimited Charitable Trust, is fully funded by the Ministry of Health for New Zealanders aged 16 and over.

PICTURED ABOVE: Sue Jennings (left) urged people diagnosed with diabetes to monitor their hearing health at a talk attended by David Malloch, Diabetes NZ Waikato field officer Angelica von Reitzenstein and Lorraine Malloch.

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