Q:Is it true that hearing loss is prevalent in individuals with diabetes?
A:Today, greater emphasis is being placed on hearing health. As audiologists, we encourage our patients to have their hearing checked annually. It is also important that we review the risks of hearing loss and diseases. Yes, it’s true that hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with type 2 diabetes (which accounts for 95% of all cases in the United States) compared to those who do not have diabetes.
Physicians often ask patients whether they have had their hearing checked routinely. Beyond referring patients for hearing tests and encouraging treatment of hearing loss, it is important for doctors to inform them of the risks they run if they ignore hearing loss—dangers that include certain life-threatening comorbidities.
Physicians have another reason to recommend patients report their hearing loss: Researchers have discovered a higher rate of hearing loss in people with diabetes. Tests that measure participants’ ability to hear at the low, mid, and high frequencies in both ears indicate a link between diabetes and hearing loss at all frequencies, with a somewhat stronger association in the high-frequency range. Mild or worse hearing of low- or mid-frequency sounds was about 21 percent in 399 adults with diabetes compared to about 9 percent in 4,741 adults without. Mild or greater hearing impairment at high frequencies was 54 percent in those with diabetes compared to 32 percent in those without.
A more recent study reports similar findings. A large cohort study of over 253,301 young and middle-aged men and women showed that diabetes mellitus was associated with the development of bilateral hearing loss, and that diabetes mellitus patients have a moderately increased risk of future hearing loss. The research team’s report concluded that screening for hearing loss would allow for early medical intervention that could improve hearing for adults with diabetes.
Evidence exists that diabetes may lead to sensorineural hearing loss. Post-mortem studies of diabetic patients have shown evidence diabetes may lead to sensorineural hearing loss by damaging the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear due to the pathologic changes associated with the condition. These include:
- Sclerosis of the internal auditory artery
- Thickened capillaries of the stria vascularis
- Atrophy of the spiral ganglion
- Demyelination of the eighth cranial nerve.
It appears the damage is more common in patients with type 2 diabetes.
As audiologists, we inform our patients about the evident link between hearing loss and diabetes and inform patients who have not yet been diagnosed with diabetes that having their hearing tested is important beyond identifying the hearing loss itself—it could be an early indicator of the onset of diabetes or other cardiovascular conditions. We encourage them to report any suspected or known hearing loss for the sake of their overall health.
Patients who have already been diagnosed with diabetes should be reminded that hearing loss is a potential complication and encourage them to have their hearing tested annually. The earlier hearing loss is diagnosed, the more effective treatment options, such as hearing aids, are likely to be.
This was a great question to ask! As always, please feel free to contact us at Northwest Ohio Hearing Clinic with any question or concerns.
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).