Diabetes & Hearing Loss
By Liliana Jurado, M.Sc. Audiology
As a patient with Diabetes, the question that is always asked is whether enough has been done to prevent any risks or complications related to Diabetes. The intention is to always get the most accurate and reliable information to manage this medical condition in the most effective way, and through active research into this condition, this can be achieved. The information presented here, based on findings from various studies, states the probability of an individual with Diabetes developing hearing loss as he or she ages.
People with Diabetes may have a higher risk of developing hearing problems than those without the disease because sustained high blood glucose levels from uncontrolled diabetes can eventually damage the small blood vessels of the body. This may result in eye, kidney, and nerve diseases. Since hearing depends on these small blood vessels and nerves, researchers are increasingly convinced that diabetes can cause ear damage and hearing loss (Ha-Sheng Li- Korotky et al., 2013).
In addition, according to the American Diabetes Association (ADA), nearly 35 million people, many of them either diabetic or pre-diabetic (a condition where blood glucose is high, but not enough to warrant a diabetes diagnosis) in the United States have some form of hearing loss. The ADA continues, “Of the 79 million adults thought to have pre-diabetes, the rate of hearing loss is 30 percent higher than in those with normal blood sugar.” Medically reviewed by George Krucik, MD; article sources: American Diabetes Association (2011), National Institute of Health (2008).
The U.S. studies suggest that among persons with Diabetes between the ages of 50 and 69 years, more than 70% have high-frequency hearing impairment and one third have low or mid-frequency hearing impairment. Studies also suggest that people with Diabetes may experience hearing loss at earlier ages. Audiologists seeing middle-aged patients with unexplained hearing loss may wish to inquire about their history of Diabetes and their family history of Diabetes. Poor blood sugar control damages blood vessels and nerves throughout the body. Patients with Diabetes should be encouraged in their efforts to maintain good blood glucose control. Patients who do not have Diabetes should be informed that they are at increased risk of Diabetes and may benefit from regular blood glucose testing.
The pathophysiological explanation for Diabetes-related hearing loss is speculative. Diabetic complications including retinopathy, nephropathy, and peripheral arterial disease are primarily vascular in origin. Diabetic neuropathies affect peripheral sensation and various autonomic functions. The pathological changes that accompany Diabetes may similarly cause injury to the vasculature or the neural system of the inner ear. Histopathological evidence of vascular or neurological involvement obtained from autopsied patients with Diabetes includes sclerosis of the internal auditory artery, thicker vessel walls of the stria vascularis and of the basilar membrane, demyelination of the cochlear nerve and atrophy of the spiral ganglion (Makishima & Tanaka, 1971). Loss of outer hair cells has also been observed among patients with Diabetes (Fukushima et al., 2006).
It can be deduced from these findings that the probability of a person with Diabetes developing a hearing loss exists. However, proper management of one’s condition, which includes: following an appropriate diet, having good blood sugar levels and an active lifestyle, is crucial to delaying or lowering the chances of developing a hearing impairment. Therefore, as a patient with Diabetes, it is important to have active awareness of specific needs related to living with this condition, and make sure that what comes out of every routine evaluation is also an active pride in being the sweetest people in the world.
Liliana Jurado sees patients at our Hearing Solutions at St. Clair and Avenue Road in Toronto.