A: Yes, it’s true. Researchers have found a higher percentage of individuals with a diagnosis of diabetes have hearing loss compared to non-diabetic individuals regardless of age. Based on this data, the researchers estimated that there was a 28 percent prevalence of at least mild hearing loss in people with diabetes. When patients were tested, it seemed there was a stronger relationship between diabetes and high-frequency hearing loss than there was between diabetes and low- or mid-frequency hearing loss. But, we also know that as we age, we lose our capability to hear high frequencies, leaving us also with a high frequency hearing loss.
The information shows that people with diabetes often have less keratin—a protein that lines the ear canal. When present in reduced amounts, hearing loss can occur. Also, the eighth cranial nerve (responsible for taking sound from the cochlea to the brainstem) may experience a deterioration of the
heath that protects its nerve fibers (demyelination). The tissue in the ear canal can also degenerate, affecting hearing.
The cochlea itself can experience a thickening of its walls or the loss of hair cells. Diabetes can even damage the nerves associated with hearing; higher blood sugar levels produce chemical changes that impact the nerves’ ability to carry sound signals. The capillaries of the inner ear can also be thickened, causing similar results.
Because of the link between diabetes and hearing loss, those individuals should have their hearing loss assessed regularly in addition to monitoring their blood sugar. This is important because some experts say that the prevalence of hearing loss in diabetics may actually be higher than known. Keep this in mind and pass along this information to your loved ones who may suffer from hearing loss, tinnitus, and diabetes.
Randa Mansour-Shousher, AuD, CCC-A, is a Doctor of Audiology with Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic, located at 1125 Hospital Dr., Suite 50 in Toledo (419-383-4012) and 1601 Brigham Dr., Suite 160 in Perrysburg (419-873-4327).