The connection between diabetes and hearing loss has, in the past, been somewhat sketchy and tentative. In an article we published two years ago here at DiabetesSelfManagement.com, the notion of diabetes causing hearing loss was described as controversial — and it probably still is. But thanks to a new analysis of the evidence available, that controversy may be fading.
Earlier this month, the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism published a meta-analysis on diabetes and hearing loss, which combined the results of 13 previous studies. The new study looked at only one type of hearing loss, sensorineural hearing loss, which involves damage to the inner ear. (It is believed that diabetes causes this type of hearing loss, which can affect how sound is picked up and processed even if the sound is amplified, such as by using a hearing aid.) Researchers, based at Niigata University in Japan, looked at data from more than 20,000 study participants. They found that overall, the risk of sustaining hearing loss in a person with diabetes is 2.15 times higher than in a person without diabetes. For participants with diabetes under age 60, the risk of hearing loss was 2.61 times higher than those without diabetes, while the relative risk dropped to 1.58 times higher in those older than 60. This is because diabetes is just one of several factors that may contribute to age-related hearing loss; the absolute risk of hearing loss increased, of course, with age.
But especially since even younger people with diabetes have an increased risk of hearing loss, there may be good reason to include screening for it as part of diabetes-related clinical recommendations. Currently, as our 2010 article noted, the procedures governing the diagnosis and treatment of hearing loss vary from state to state, with some states allowing the distribution of hearing aids even without a medical examination to rule out highly treatable conditions (which may require, and benefit greatly from, surgery). Because sensorineural hearing loss involves damage to how the sound signal is picked up — as opposed to damage to the structures that transmit the vibrations that are picked up, called conductive hearing loss — hearing aids may be less effective for sensorineural than for conductive hearing loss.
Nevertheless, many people both with and without diabetes find that hearing aids can be beneficial, and other forms of assistance such as assistive listening devices can be beneficial even when hearing aids are not. And now that the connection between diabetes and hearing loss is becoming more established, researchers may begin to explore whether any hearing loss can be regained through improved diabetes control or reversal of Type 2 diabetes.
Have you been screened for hearing loss? Would you like to be? If you have experienced hearing loss, do you find hearing aids to be helpful? What about other treatments or adaptations? Did you suspect that diabetes played a role in your hearing loss, or did you chalk it up simply to age? Should hearing-loss screening be a regular part of diabetes screening and treatment? Leave a comment below!