By: Beth Walsh for Diabetes1
Add another medical problem to the long list attributed to diabetes: hearing loss. A new study funded by the National Institutes of Health indicates that hearing loss is about twice as common in adults with diabetes compared to those who do not have the disease.
Could you have diabetes?
More than 20 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes. However, more than 6 million members of that population are unaware that they have the disease.
Diabetes often goes undiagnosed because many of its symptoms seem so harmless but early detection can decrease the chances of developing more severe complications of diabetes. Diabetes symptoms include frequent urination, excessive thirst, extreme hunger, unusual weight loss, increased fatigue, irritability and blurry vision.
Anyone 45 years old or older should consider getting tested for diabetes. Those who are under 45 but overweight or having any other risk factors should also consider being tested.
Risk factors include age 45 or older, being overweight, having a close relative with diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Researchers discovered the higher rate of hearing loss in those with diabetes after analyzing the results of hearing tests given to a nationally representative sample of adults in the United States. After measuring participants' ability to hear low, middle, and high frequency sounds in both ears, the link between diabetes and hearing loss was evident across all frequencies. The strongest association with in the high frequency range and mild or greater hearing impairment of low- or mid-frequency sounds in the worse ear was about 21 percent in 399 adults with diabetes compared to about 9 percent in 4,741 adults without diabetes. For high frequency sounds, mild or greater hearing impairment in the worse ear was 54 percent in those with diabetes compared to 32 percent in non-diabetics.
Adults with pre-diabetes – those whose blood glucose is higher than normal but not high enough for a diabetes diagnosis – had a 30 percent higher rate of hearing loss compared to those with normal blood sugar tested after an overnight fast.
Other studies looking at diabetes and hearing loss found no or a weaker association but they were based on much smaller samples of older adults and therefore, considered inconclusive. This study covered a nationally representative sample of working age adults from 20 to 69 years old. A link between diabetes and hearing loss was found as early as ages 30 to 40.
Researchers theorize that hearing loss in diabetics is caused by damage to the nerves and blood vessels of the inner ear, the same damage that causes problems such as retinopathy and infections of the feet.