A review of studies examining diabetes and hearing impairment concludes that there is strong evidence that the two conditions are linked. The review was recently published in Current Diabetes Reports.
[Photo: Dr. Elizabeth Helzner]
According to Dr. Elizabeth Helzner, co-author and assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, “Hearing impairment is one of the most pervasive disabling conditions, affecting 16.1 percent of adults in the United States. Two thirds of adults have clinically significant hearing impairment by age 70. Hearing impairment has been associated with social isolation and depression, cognitive decline and incident dementia, a higher propensity for falls and hospitalizations, and increased mortality.”
Meanwhile, diabetes is known to result in neuropathy, retinopathy, and damage to the vascular system. It has been linked to hearing impairment in many, but not all studies.
Dr. Helzner and her co-author from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Mr. Kevin Contrera, reviewed large, population-based studies, as well as two meta-analyses, examining the link between diabetes and hearing impairment. Direct comparisons of studies were complicated because they often included people in different age ranges and defined hearing impairment and diabetes differently.
They found that persons with diabetes are between 42-82 percent more likely to have hearing loss in frequencies important for understanding speech. This association was found to be particularly compelling in younger persons, suggesting that diabetes may in fact damage the auditory system, causing hearing loss at an earlier age.
Although further longitudinal studies are needed, this review suggests that screening diabetics for hearing impairment may be prudent.