Diabetes Health

Diabetes Can Affect Hearing

Diabetes complications can affect the eyes, kidneys, heart - and hearing. Women with poorly controlled diabetes may be at higher risk for hearing loss than those who keep their blood sugar well controlled.

Close-up photo of woman listening

That's the conclusion of a study at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit. Researchers looked at a group of 990 men and women who had hearing testing done at the hospital between 2000 and 2008. They separated out those who had diabetes, and divided that subgroup into those with well-controlled diabetes and those with poorly controlled diabetes.

Women ages 60 to 75 with well-controlled diabetes had hearing loss that was 14 percent worse than women in that age group who didn't have diabetes. Among women in that age group with poorly controlled diabetes, hearing loss was 28 percent worse.

Greater effect

Younger women with diabetes, well-managed or not, were more likely to have hearing loss than those unaffected by the illness.

The new study, presented at a recent meeting of the Triological Society, is important because it looked at diabetes control. Earlier studies on diabetes and hearing loss did not take into account blood-glucose levels. The Triological Society, also known as the American Laryngological, Rhinological and Otological Society Inc., is a professional organization for ear, nose, and throat specialists.

Men in the study did not seem to show a link between diabetes and hearing loss. But men are more likely to suffer from hearing loss than women, so this prevalence may mask diabetes' effect, says study author Kathleen Yaremchuk, M.D.

Men are exposed to more environmental causes of hearing loss, such as loud noise, either in the workplace or during leisure activities, she says.

Diabetes management

The bottom line for people with diabetes is the importance of blood glucose control. Managing diabetes properly should help prevent hearing loss or keep it from getting worse, Dr. Yaremchuk says.

What's unknown is if better management of diabetes can reverse hearing loss that's already occurred.

Recommendations call for people with diabetes to have their vision checked every year, says Spyros Mezitis, M.D., at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

This study suggests people with diabetes may also need to have their hearing tested, Dr. Mezitis says.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Diabetes Association - Diabetes and Hearing Loss

American Speech-Language-Hearing Association - Hearing Screening and Testing

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders - Have Wise Ears for life

April 2012

How Hearing Fails

Your hearing can suffer in two main ways:

  • Conductive hearing loss results when sound doesn't make from the eardrum to the oval window of the cochlea in the inner ear. This may be caused by scarring or perforation of the eardrum, or by scarring or destruction of the ossicles, the three bones of the inner ear. This type of hearing loss can also be caused by fluid or mucus in the middle ear or by calcification that closes the oval window. Middle ear infections are also frequent causes of this type of hearing loss.

  • Sensorineural hearing loss, or nerve loss, involves damage to the inner ear. It's the most common form of hearing loss in older adults. The three main causes are aging, loud noise, and heredity.

Hearing loss is silent, painless, and gradual. It typically starts with a loss in the higher frequencies. You first notice that you have lost consonant sounds like "s," "sh" and "t." In the early stages, things seem loud enough, but they're just not clear. So you can't tell if you have a hearing difficulty or if others just aren't speaking up.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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