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Can Diabetes Cause Hearing Loss?

Introduction

In previous articles we discussed the links between untreated hearing loss and a variety of debilitating medical and emotional conditions, including dementia, depression, and Alzheimer’s disease. Given the overwhelming evidence…we felt it was important to reveal that untreated hearing loss is more than an inconvenience, but will eventually damage your physical, emotional, and social health, while causing disturbing effects on your relationships with loved ones, family, and friends. This article will discuss the link between existing medical conditions and hearing loss; in particular, the link between diabetes and hearing loss.

The Problem

People with diabetes may have a higher risk of developing hearing problems than those without the disease. This is because sustained high blood glucose levels from uncontrolled diabetes can eventually damage the small blood vessels of the body…resulting in eye, kidney, and nerve diseases. Since hearing depends on these small blood vessels and nerves, researchers are increasingly convinced that diabetes can cause ear damage and hearing loss.

The Evidence

A 2008 study, using National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey results, found a higher prevalence of hearing damage among diabetics (21%) than non-diabetics (9%). The degree of hearing loss ranged from mild to moderate, was generally difficult to detect without a hearing test, but inflicted substantial limitations on communicating. The strongest association between diabetes and hearing loss was noted in younger survey respondents (those less than 60 years old). This is important because hearing loss in this age group is uncommon, suggesting a connection between the diabetes and hearing loss. These findings imply that people with diabetes are much more likely to have hearing problems than those without diabetes, and the increased risk of hearing loss for those with diabetes doesn’t appear to be related to other common causes of hearing damage.

Another study, The Link between Diabetes and Hearing Loss, showed that diabetes affects one in five veterans receiving care at the Veterans Administration. The findings from this study show a link between diabetes, hearing loss and auditory brainstem function, and recommend that patients with diabetes should be screened for hearing loss.

Combining the results of 13 previous studies (including the two referenced above), Japanese researchers found that hearing loss was twice as common among people with diabetes compared to those without, and the effects of older age couldn’t explain the results. The research, published online in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, are based on research involving more than 20,000 people from the United States, Asia, Australia and Brazil. All but one study found an association between diabetes and a higher risk of hearing problems. Neither age nor exposure to a noisy workplace could explain the association between diabetes and hearing loss, according to Chika Horikawa, a dietitian at Niigata University in Japan, who led the analysis of the 13 studies.

Still another study, Risk of developing sudden sensorineural hearing loss in diabetic patients: a population-based cohort study, published in Ontology & Neurology in December 2012 and involving more than 52,000 individuals, found that diabetes significantly increases a person’s risk of developing sensorineural hearing loss…a form of hearing loss associated with damage to the inner ear.

Implications

A growing body of research indicates that poor blood sugar control damages blood vessels and nerves throughout the body, and this blood vessel deterioration could explain why people with diabetes (especially younger people less than 60 years old) have more diabetes-related hearing problems than older populations. The research provides strong reasons for people with diabetes and symptoms of hearing loss, especially those under 60, to seek testing and possible treatment.

About the Author

Dr. Ha-Sheng Li-Korotky is the President and co-founder of Pacific Northwest Audiology (www.pnwaudiology.com), based in Bend, Oregon. The Doctor is a nationally acclaimed clinician and research scientist, with AuD, PhD, and MD credentials and more than 100 scientific publications.