The latest report by the CDC states that there are 25.8 million Americans suffering from diabetes and another 79 million who are thought to have pre-diabetes. With all the health problems that are associated with diabetes, it is no surprise that several studies have tried to identify whether there is a link between diabetes and hearing loss.
Here are 3 of the most important:
1. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Study
A study released in 2008 looked at hearing loss in individuals with and without diabetes. The researchers accounted for age, race, sex, education, income, previous noise exposure, and medications. They also reported hearing loss across all frequencies (pitches). Results of this study showed that diabetics of all ages had worse hearing across all frequencies, but particularly so in the high range of hearing.
2. The “13” Study
A more recent analysis looked at 13 past studies of diabetes in relation to hearing loss. In comparing results of the previous studies they found that diabetics, overall, were 2.15 times more likely to have hearing loss compared to their non-diabetic counterparts. Additionally, diabetics under the age of 60 were even more likely to develop hearing loss, at 2.61 times their normal hearing peers.
3. The Henry Ford Hospital Study
Another study done in 2012 at Henry Ford hospital showed that women with diabetes who were between 60-75 years old had hearing similar to non-diabetic women in the same age group, as long as their diabetes was well controlled. This was the only group that showed a difference in hearing between uncontrolled and controlled diabetes. But, this result highlights the fact that more information is needed to understand the complex connection between diabetes and hearing loss, especially between genders.
The Prevailing Theory Linking Diabetes and Hearing Loss
Diabetes is known to cause blood vessel disease and nerve damage, particularly in the kidneys and eyes. For example, diabetic retinopathy, which can ultimately cause permanent blindness, is caused by damage to these small blood vessels in the eye. The ear is similar to the eye, in that, it needs these tiny blood vessels to be healthy in order to function appropriately. It is thought that the increased blood glucose levels cause damage to the small blood vessels in various parts of the ear that are absolutely critical to hearing.
Correlation Doesn’t Equal Causation
Several studies have linked diabetes with hearing loss. But, it is important to remember that we do not know that diabetes CAUSES hearing loss. There is more research needed to understand the exact effect diabetes has on hearing loss. We only know that the connection is startling
Diabetes can put someone at risk for many health issues, including hearing loss. While there are obviously a lot of factors that can influence hearing in respect to diabetes, we know that there is a definite link between the two—but we don’t have all the answers yet.
With the likelihood of diabetes creating a permanent and progressive hearing problem it is important for those with the disease to be tested regularly and earlier than most to catch and address any hearing loss as quickly as possible. Hearing testing is often overlooked in regular physician visits, but if you feel you or a loved one are having any difficulty be sure to mention it at your next appointment.