Hearing loss affects approximately 48 million Americans,1 and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 30.3 million people in the United States have diabetes, which is just under 10% of the US population.2 These statistics make them two of the most prevalent health concerns in America. As research continues there seems to be a growing overlap between these two populations, hinting as a potential connection between hearing loss and diabetes.
Hearing loss is twice as common in diabetes patients
In her 2008 study from the Annals of Internal Medicine, Kathleen Bainbridge, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, drew a number of conclusions from national survey data. She concluded that hearing loss is more than twice as common in diabetes patients than in the general population. In addition, her study found that 21% of respondents exhibited both hearing loss and diabetes, compared to 9% of those surveyed who only had some form of hearing impairment but no diabetes. Finally, of the 86 million Americans with prediabetes, rates of hearing loss are 30% higher than adults with normal blood glucose levels.3 Perhaps, this final finding is the most alarming number.
Current studies show evidence to support a noticeable overlap between the illnesses. Beyond primarily impacting older populations, medical practitioners have several theories as to how the two might be related. The current body of research linking hearing loss and diabetes is still fairly limited. So, we need more research to connect the two health concerns definitively.
Metabolic involvement in hearing loss? Anecdotal evidence
Audiologist, Marilyn Enoch, writing for The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) shared stories from her experience treating people with both hearing loss and diabetes. For one patient, she explained, "An audiogram revealed hearing loss in both low and high frequencies, with normal hearing in the middle frequencies. The shape of this audiogram suggested metabolic involvement." But anecdotal evidence isn't enough. She hopes that more resources will be dedicated to looking into the links between these two conditions. "More research is necessary to determine how diabetes, which is thought to be a microvascular disease, interacts with and affects the auditory system."4
What links the conditions?
Diabetes patients have sustained elevated blood glucose levels. This results in damage to many of the fine blood vessels that supply the inner ear. A network of vasculature supplies the cochlea. When patients fail to manage their illness, or it goes uncontrolled for too long, it negatively impacts the inner ear tissue and nerves. This leads to impaired hearing.
Take the Appropriate Course of Action for your hearing loss
Talk to your primary care physician or an endocrinologist to address your diabetes. Our professionals at HearingLife can counsel you on your hearing loss and to conduct a hearing assessment*. If so, we can work with you decide which treatments suit your needs best. For more information on hearing loss and links to other illnesses, make an appointment or make for a complimentary hearing assessment*.
Note: originally written in 2018, this content was updated 11/13/2019 for clarity and to add new research.