Can Diabetes Cause Ringing In My Ears?

Ringing in your ears, also known as tinnitus, is an unpleasant condition that can be brought about by various causes. Some people wonder if diabetes can cause tinnitus.

Understanding tinnitus can help you deal with it and get the treatment you need.

What is tinnitus (ringing in the ears)?

Tinnitus is perceiving a sound that does not exist, most commonly a ringing sound, but it can also be clicking, roaring, hissing, or buzzing. It can happen in one or both ears.

It is not a disease but a symptom that has a variety of causes and is fairly common. About 10 percent of the US adult population has experienced tinnitus that lasted at least five minutes in the last year.

Tinnitus indicates that something is wrong with the auditory system and can significantly affect your quality of life.

Who is more likely to develop tinnitus?

Given the wide variety of causes, anyone can develop tinnitus. Sometimes tinnitus can be transient. Other times, it can be chronic, but the risk factors are:

  • Older age

  • Male sex

  • Exposure to loud noise. This places construction workers, military veterans, musicians, and people who listen to loud music at higher risk.

  • Tobacco and alcohol use

  • Obesity

  • Cardiovascular problems

  • High blood pressure

How is diabetes related to tinnitus?

The possibility of a link between diabetes and tinnitus is being investigated.

Does diabetes cause tinnitus?

Diabetes can cause tinnitus. The inner ear is dependent on glucose metabolism in the bloodstream and thus can be impacted by high blood sugar.

Another thing that can cause tinnitus is high levels of insulin. This means that tinnitus may happen as a symptom of hypoglycemia caused by taking a higher than required dose of insulin. 

Tinnitus is not typically listed as a diabetes symptom, per se, but it does appear that diabetes can cause or aggravate it.

Diabetes is not, however, among the most common causes of tinnitus.

Tinnitus is also a side effect of hearing loss, and diabetes can cause issues with your hearing and sense of balance. These issues are related to the blood pressure and circulation issues caused by diabetes, so the better your diabetes is being managed, the less likely you are to experience hearing loss. 

People with diabetes should get their hearing checked regularly.

Other causes of tinnitus

The most common cause of tinnitus is noise-induced hearing loss. When hearing is damaged, the part of the brain that processes sound sometimes over-compensates, generating the perception of sounds that do not exist. This explains the occupational risk of construction workers and soldiers.

There are several other causes of tinnitus, which include:

  • An excessive amount of wax in the ear

  • A sinus or inner ear infection

  • Cardiovascular issues

  • Brain tumors

  • Certain medications, e.g., some anti-cancer and anti-malarial drugs

  • Thyroid abnormalities. Hyperthyroid episodes can cause tinnitus, and hypothyroid can cause hearing loss. In many cases, the hearing loss can be reversed with proper treatment.

  • Ménière's disease.  This disorder of the inner ear also causes vertigo, hearing loss, and a feeling of fullness in the ear, usually affecting only one ear.

  • Changes in female hormones. This can happen during perimenopause or pregnancy, when starting hormone treatments for menopause, and sometimes with the menstrual cycle. In the last case, tinnitus appears to be associated with menstrual cycle irregularity.

Some of these causes of tinnitus are treatable and resolvable. For example, issues with earwax are easily treated. However, tinnitus can also be chronic and untreatable, especially when caused by or associated with hearing loss.

Signs and symptoms of tinnitus

Tinnitus itself is considered a symptom. It is defined as a continuous or intermittent noise in one or both ears, such as ringing, roaring, buzzing, hissing, or whistling.

The sound can only be heard by the person suffering from tinnitus. However, rarely, you can have objective tinnitus, which a doctor can sometimes hear by placing a stethoscope over the affected ear. This kind of tinnitus is not neurological, but is typically caused by muscle contractions in your ear. It results in a more click-like sound.

Diagnosis of tinnitus

Tinnitus is diagnosed based on the symptoms, and then an investigation is conducted to determine the cause and begin proper treatment. Expect to be evaluated for hearing loss, as that is the most common cause of tinnitus. Your doctor will also check if your ears are clogged with wax. A full medical history will be taken to check for contributory factors — and yes, this can include diabetes.

If you also have vertigo and unilateral aural fullness, your doctor will check you for the fluid accumulation that accompanies Ménière's disease. You might also be evaluated for a sinus or inner ear infection. Your doctor will also consider whether the tinnitus is one-sided or affects both ears.

Once the cause of your tinnitus is identified, appropriate treatment can be established.

Treatment

It is possible to treat the cause of tinnitus and thus resolve the problem. In others, however, tinnitus is ongoing, chronic, and can range from mildly annoying to debilitating. Here are some treatment options for chronic tinnitus:

Medication

Tinnitus is not treatable with medication, but the mental health issues it can cause can be. Some people with tinnitus require antidepressants and/or anti-anxiety drugs to help them cope with the frustrations of the condition.

Sound-based treatments

If you also have hearing loss, you will be evaluated for hearing aids. Sometimes, restoring a more normal sound input level can cause the symptoms to go away. Alternatively, it can "mask" the tinnitus by allowing you to hear other stuff and tune it out.

A masking sound is sometimes used to help you ignore the ringing in your ears. This might be produced by a wearable sound generator that fits your ear or a tabletop sound generator. The latter is typically used in the bedroom and is for people whose tinnitus is not that bad during the day but tends to keep them awake at night.

Acoustic neural stimulation is a relatively new treatment for people with severe or continuous tinnitus. This uses a device to deliver a specific acoustic signal embedded in music that helps desensitize you to the tinnitus.

Behavioral

Tinnitus is not a mental disorder, but cognitive behavioral therapy can help sufferers better deal with the condition. This is a time-limited, structured therapy that helps you reduce the distress caused by tinnitus. It includes relaxation training and techniques so that when you have an episode of tinnitus, it does not affect you as much. 

Prevention

As the primary cause of tinnitus is hearing loss, the best way to prevent it is by preventing hearing loss in the first place. Listen to music at a reasonable volume and wear earplugs or ear protection when exposed to loud noise.

Musicians' earplugs are used by musicians but can also be valuable to regular concert-goers. Instead of muting parts of the audible spectrum like regular earplugs, musicians' earplugs reduce the volume of sound across the entire spectrum, protecting your ears without affecting your ability to enjoy the music.

Consume alcohol in moderation and do your best to quit smoking, as both of these drugs can increase your risk of tinnitus.

The lowdown

Diabetes can cause tinnitus, but it is not one of the most common causes. However, people with diabetes should have their hearing checked regularly, and if you are a diabetic and experiencing tinnitus, it's important to go to your doctor.

Tinnitus is sometimes transient or caused by very treatable conditions. However, in some cases, it can be chronic and require long-term treatment and management. There is currently no cure for chronic tinnitus, but it is possible to reduce the symptom and return to a more normal life.


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