By Elizabeth Brassine, Au.D.
According to the American Diabetes Association, it’s estimated that 25.8 million Americans (children and adults) have diabetes. That’s 8.3% of the population. There are certainly many complications from diabetes that are well known such as heart disease, kidney disease, blindness, stroke, high blood pressure, and peripheral neuropathy.
Additionally, one of the most common and yet least understood and diagnosed complication of diabetes is hearing loss. In a 2008 study, it was found that diabetics have approximately a 30% higher incidence of hearing loss than patients with normal blood sugar. Over 50% of those, who participated in the study, in particular showed a high frequency hearing loss, which is one of the most common types of hearing loss and the type effectively treated with hearing aids. The study also showed a correlate between pre-diabetes and hearing loss.
Diabetes can lead to nerve damage. Neuropathy occurs when high blood sugars cause chemical changes in nerves that impair their ability to transmit signals. Hearing also depends on nerves of the peripheral auditory mechanism. It’s believed that over time high blood glucose levels damage these nerves diminishing the ability to hear. High blood sugar is also known to damage vascular systems. Diabetes can damage the blood vessels in the ear similar to the retina. The structures of the ear have a delicate blood supply, which is susceptible to disruption due to diabetes. This interruption can result in damage to the sensory structures of the ear, therefore causing or contributing to hearing loss.
Finally the study looked at the link between how long someone has lived with diabetes and the severity of their hearing loss. Specifically it was found that 75% of individuals who had diabetes for more than eight years experienced a moderate to severe hearing loss.
So, if you or a loved one has been diagnosed with diabetes or is classified as pre-diabetic, it’s important to have your hearing screened. If a hearing loss is suspected then a full hearing test would be recommended. Contact your audiologist today.
Elizabeth Brassine is a Doctor of Audiology and the owner of Hearing Services of McKinney.