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Diabetes Linked to Hearing Loss

Tara Dairman

July 11, 2008

If you have diabetes and have trouble hearing, you’re not alone. A new study has found a higher rate of hearing loss in people who have diabetes than in people who don’t. While other small studies have found links between the two conditions in the past, this new study has found that hearing loss is quite common in people with diabetes.

Published in the July 1 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine, the new study examined data from 5,140 adults who had taken hearing tests and answered questions about diabetes as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 1999-2004. The adults tested were 20-69 years old.

After adjusting for age, the researchers found that 21% of people who said they had diabetes had hearing loss in the low- or mid-frequency ranges, compared to only 9% of people who didn’t have diabetes. (An example of a low-frequency sound is a tuba or bass drum.) When high frequencies were tested, 54% of people with diabetes were found to have hearing loss compared to 32% of people without diabetes. (An example of a high-frequency sound is a bird chirping or a flute.)

Hearing loss appeared to affect people with diabetes regardless of their sex, ethnicity, education, or income; in general, 28% of people with diabetes were found to have low- or mid-frequency hearing loss.

The study did not show that diabetes causes hearing loss. However, the researchers pointed out that diabetes-related blood vessel and nerve damage, which can cause complications in the eyes, kidneys, and other parts of the body, may affect hearing in a similar way. They concluded “that hearing impairment may be an underrecognized complication of diabetes” and suggested that people with diabetes have their hearing screened regularly, so that those who have hearing loss can be diagnosed and offered hearing aids.

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