A Link Between Hearing Loss & Diabetes

A Link Between Hearing Loss & Diabetes

In Uncategorized by Bary E. Williams Au.D.

Hearing loss is a common health condition that millions of people navigate daily. People of all ages and backgrounds can experience impaired hearing which impacts nearly 30 million children and adults in the U.S. There are various causes of hearing loss including genetic history and environmental exposure to loud noise. Another factor that can contribute to the development of impaired hearing is existing medical conditions. Hearing loss is linked to several chronic health conditions including cardiovascular disease, hypertension, dementia, and diabetes. Increasing research and evidence reveal that people with diabetes are twice as likely to suffer from hearing loss.

Quick Statistics 

These crucial statistics highlight the prevalence and scope of both hearing loss and diabetes in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): 

  • Hearing Loss: 
    • Nearly 48 million people have hearing loss is at least one ear
      • 1 in 8 people 
    • Third most prevalent chronic health condition 
    • 50% of adults aged 75 and older have disabling hearing loss 
  • Diabetes: 
    • 34.2 million people, 10.5% of the U.S. population 
    • 88 million adults (age 18 and older) have prediabetes, 34.5% of the adult population

Pairing these statistics illustrate that hearing loss and diabetes impact a substantial portion of the population. It is also safe to assume that there is an overlap but what exactly is the relationship between these two significant health conditions? 

What does the research say?

The link between hearing loss and diabetes has been discussed and researched for quite some time. There are numerous studies that have explored this link and share the core finding that hearing loss and diabetes are correlated. Here are two examples: 

  1. 2019 study: Type 2 diabetes and the risk of hearing loss
  • Study: researchers collected data from questionnaires that surveyed 139,909 women with and without diagnosed (type 2) diabetes. Participants were surveyed twice between 2009 and 2013 and self-reported hearing loss as moderate or severe. 
  • Findings: women with type 2 diabetes were at a higher risk for moderate or worse hearing loss compared to women without diabetes. 
  1. 2008 study by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders
  • Study: researchers at the NIDCD analyzed data from hearing exams conducted by the CDC from 1999 to 2004. Participants were part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey and were adults ages 20-69. The hearing test measured people’s ability to hear low, middle, and high frequency sounds in both ears.
  • Findings: the analysis showed that adults with diabetes were twice as likely to have hearing loss compared to adults without diabetes. Mild or greater hearing impairment was: 
    • Low-Mid frequency sounds:
      • 21% percent in adults with diabetes 
      • 9% in adults without diabetes 
    • High frequency sounds:
      • 54% percent in adults with diabetes 
      • 32% in adults without diabetes 

Though substantial research indicates that these health conditions are strongly correlated, exactly how diabetes impacts hearing still remains unclear. 

Impact of Diabetes on Hearing 

Researchers suggest that high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes may damage the nerves and blood vessels that are in the inner ear. The nerves, hair cells, and blood vessels in the inner ear are critical to how we process sound. They help translate soundwaves into electrical signals that are then sent to the brain through nerve pathways. The brain is then able to process and make meaning of the sound we hear. The hair cells in the inner ear do not regenerate which means that any damage is permanent and results in hearing loss. 

Be Proactive About Hearing Health

If you have diabetes, it is extremely important and necessary to have your hearing assessed. Hearing tests involve a relatively quick, and non-invasive process that determine any degree of impairment and the specific type of hearing loss. Fortunately, there are several useful ways to treat hearing loss. The most common treatment is hearing aids which are small electronic devices that help absorb, amplify, and process sound; increasing one’s ability to hear. Identifying any degree of impairment as early as possible can drastically help your hearing health and transitioning into quality living with hearing aids!

Bary E. Williams Au.D.
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