Tinnitus is when a person hears phantom noises that no one else can hear, like ringing, humming, buzzing and chirping. It often signifies damage to the delicate hair cells found in the inner ear caused by loud noise, but it can also be a symptom of many common health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.
If you’re at risk of diabetes and experiencing severe tinnitus, you might be wondering if it means you’re developing this potentially severe medical condition. This guide will tell you all about the relationship between tinnitus and diabetes.
Does Diabetes Cause Tinnitus?
Yes, type 2 diabetes and associated insulin resistance can cause tinnitus and hearing loss. People who overproduce insulin develop insulin resistance, adversely affecting the blood sugar levels in the inner ear. Tinnitus may occur when the auditory nerve doesn’t have enough blood sugar to function.
What’s the Evidence?
Diabetes is strongly associated with hearing loss, one of the leading causes of tinnitus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, people with diabetes experience hearing loss at twice the rate of the rest of the population.
A published study conducted at Semmelweis University in Budapest looked at how common tinnitus was in type 2 diabetes patients versus those with normal blood insulin levels. They found diabetes patients were more likely to have tinnitus symptoms than the control group. Researchers also found that tinnitus develops earlier in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Another study in Brazil looked at tinnitus in patients with insulin resistance caused by a condition called hyperinsulinemia, which refers to an overproduction of insulin.
The study participants were put on a diabetes-friendly diet and advised to eat every three hours to avoid low blood sugar. Roughly three out of the four participants who kept to the diet reported improvements in their tinnitus.
Did you know that even caffeine can affect tinnitus symptoms in those who already have the condition?
Hyperinsulinemia has also been linked to Meniere’s disease, a balance disorder caused by changes in inner ear fluid pressure.
People who consume too many carbohydrates and refined sugars develop high blood sugar. During digestion, our bodies break carbohydrates into simple sugar molecules like glucose that the bloodstream absorbs so that cells can utilize energy.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that aids in blood sugar management.
It’s like a key that opens the door of cell membranes, allowing glucose to come inside. When blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas secretes insulin in response. Once cells use up the energy, insulin signals the liver to store the excess glucose.
When your body starts overproducing insulin due to too much blood sugar, you eventually develop insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Once the body becomes resistant, the blood sugar level will continue to increase. The pancreas will keep producing more and more insulin to combat the high blood sugar levels.
How Does Diabetes Cause Tinnitus?
The inner ear doesn’t have an energy reserve, so it needs a steady blood supply with adequate oxygen and glucose to function correctly. A faulty blood vessel or a sudden change in the level of oxygen or sugar in the blood can cause a malfunction in the auditory nerve, which transmits information about sounds to the brain.
You may experience tinnitus when your auditory nerve doesn’t have a steady supply of everything it needs to work right, and a long-term imbalance in blood sugar will irreversibly damage the nerve, causing permanent hearing loss.
If you take medications for diabetes or another metabolic disorder, you might also experience tinnitus as a side effect.
The best course of action for dealing with tinnitus is often to treat the underlying cause. Many lifestyle changes that prevent diabetes are good for your overall health, helping you avoid other causes of tinnitus, like high blood pressure.
Read Also: Can Earplugs Cause Tinnitus?
The American Diabetes Association suggests a few simple steps to manage your diabetes, reduce associated tinnitus symptoms and avoid significant hearing loss:
A balanced diet will help you maintain normal blood sugar levels. Avoid sweet treats and other foods containing too much sugar. Instead, eat lots of high-fiber foods, complex carbs, fruits, and vegetables.
Excess weight is a significant risk factor for diabetes. Some studies suggest that cutting your body weight by 5 to 7 percent reduces the risk of diabetes by 58 percent.
Smoking is linked to a high risk of diabetes. Smoking increases the risk of diabetes by 30 to 40 percent.
Regular Physical Activity
Try to work a little exercise into your daily routine. This is crucial if you have a desk job or do other work that involves sitting for long periods.
Getting Help for Tinnitus
If your tinnitus persists for longer than a day or two, you should see a health care professional. When the doctor diagnoses tinnitus, they will give you a complete examination to see if it’s caused by diabetes or another severe medical condition.
The doctor will likely send you to an audiologist for a professional hearing test if you show signs of hearing loss.
Depending on the results, they may recommend a few therapies designed to reduce the burden of chronic tinnitus, including:
- Hearing aids
- Sound therapy, or tinnitus masking therapy
- Tinnitus retraining therapy
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy
Some fundamental lifestyle changes might also help. Studies show that sleep and diet play a role in tinnitus risk. Many tinnitus sufferers report that their symptoms improve drastically after a good night’s sleep.
A link between diabetes and tinnitus has been demonstrated in several studies. Diabetes can severely damage the inner ear by affecting the supply of glucose to the auditory nerve. This disruption in nerve signals can lead to tinnitus and hearing loss in extreme cases.