The Link Between Diabetes and Hearing Loss

Hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease, according to research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Detecting an underlying medical cause for hearing loss, such as diabetes is an important priority for the medical team at CNC Hearing and Balance Center.

According to CNC Hearing & Balance Center Medical Director Moises Arriaga, MD, it is important to fully investigate all possible causes of a patient’s hearing loss with history, imaging and laboratory testing. CNC Hearing & Balance Center offers patients a multidisciplinary approach in order to perform a thorough evaluation to detect and treat underlying reasons for one’s hearing issues.

“CNC Hearing & Balance Center offers a comprehensive solution to hearing loss. Not only do we offer medical treatment of hearing problems but we provide advanced microsurgery, implantable devices and even laser stimulation of the inner ear once we confirm the underlying medical reason for one’s hearing loss,” Arriaga said.

Diabetes is one example of a condition that can effect one’s hearing. According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, hearing loss may be an under-recognized complication of diabetes. As diabetes becomes more common, the disease may become a more significant contributor to hearing loss. Their study found a strong and consistent link between hearing impairment and diabetes using a number of different outcomes.

The researchers discovered the higher rate of hearing loss in those with diabetes after analyzing the results of hearing tests given to a nationally representative sample of adults in the United States. The test measured participants’ ability to hear low, middle, and high frequency sounds in both ears. The link between diabetes and hearing loss was evident across all frequencies, with a stronger association in the high frequency range. Mild or greater hearing impairment of low- or mid-frequency sounds in the worse ear was about 21 percent in 399 adults with diabetes compared to about 9 percent in 4,741 adults without diabetes. For high frequency sounds, mild or greater hearing impairment in the worse ear was 54 percent in those with diabetes compared to 32 percent in those who did not have the disease.

Adults with pre-diabetes, whose blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis, had a 30 percent higher rate of hearing loss compared to those with normal blood sugar tested after an overnight fast. The study, was published years ago in the Annals of Internal Medicine and was conducted by researchers from the NIDDK, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), components of the NIH, and Social & Scientific Systems, Inc., which provides support on public health topics to NIH and other government agencies.

The researchers analyzed data from hearing tests administered from 1999 to 2004 to participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Half of the 11,405 survey participants aged 20 to 69 were randomly assigned to have their hearing tested, and nearly 90 percent of them completed the hearing exam and the diabetes questionnaire. The hearing test, called pure tone audiometry, measures hearing sensitivity across a range of sound frequencies.

“The link between diabetes and hearing loss has been debated since the 1960s or before, and our results show that a relationship exists even when we account for the major factors known to affect hearing, such as age, race, ethnicity, income level, noise exposure, and the use of certain medications,” noted Kathleen Bainbridge, Ph.D., of Social & Scientific Systems, Inc.

Diabetes may lead to hearing loss by damaging the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear, the researchers suggest. Autopsy studies of diabetes patients have shown evidence of such damage.

Hearing loss is a common problem caused by aging, disease, heredity, and noise. About 17 percent of American adults — 36 million people — report some degree of hearing loss. There is a strong relationship between age and reported hearing loss: 8 percent of American adults 18 to 44 years old, 19 percent of adults 45 to 64 years old, and 30 percent of adults 65 to 74 years old report trouble with hearing. Call CNC Hearing and Balance Center to schedule a free hearing screening at 504-934-8321.