It is no wonder the association between these two common medical conditions is investigated, with around 30 million people in the United States diagnosed with diabetes and hearing loss affecting some 34 million1 people in the United States.
In the 1980’s and 90’s studies were conducted to examine pure-tone air conduction thresholds at different frequencies, but results of the studies were varied. Additionally, the studies defined hearing impairment differently, making it difficult to reach a general conclusion.
More recently, one National Health and Nutrition Examination Study evaluated hearing impairment at different frequencies and levels of severity, finding that regardless of the definition, hearing impairment was more prevalent in adults with diabetes than without, especially in the younger population.
What is the potential pathology of a link between diabetes and hearing loss?
People with diabetes who have poor blood sugar control often experience complications such as damage to the nerves and blood vessels. The ear contains many nerves as well as blood vessels in the cochlea that support the structures related to our hearing. It would make sense then, that hearing loss could occur as these complications intensify; however, more evidence from prospective studies needs to be completed to confirm a cause and effect relationship. (Previous studies have only been observational in nature).
Although hearing tests are not routinely ordered for patients with diabetes, hearing care is another important component of a person’s overall health. Hearing providers and general practitioners alike should work together with their patients to ensure good blood sugar control and appropriate hearing screening in their patients.
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