by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
Most people know that if you have diabetes, you run the risk of microvascular complications that can affect the retina of your eyes and your peripheral nerves, especially in your feet. Diabetes can also damage your hearing. That is not new.
What is new is just how many people with diabetes also have resulting high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. Here is what a couple of studies have revealed.
The first study (1) revealed almost six times the odds of high frequency hearing loss associated with peripheral neuropathy and coronary heart disease. In addition, this study of 472 people showed that sub-optimal glycemic control (defined as a hemoglobin A1c level (HbA1c) greater than or equal to 7%) was associated with almost 3 times the odds of high-frequency hearing loss.
The second study (2) compared the hearing of 50 people with diabetes to 50 controls matched for age and sex.
The results of pure tone audiometry found that 94% of the people with diabetes had hearing loss compared to just 18% in the control group. That’s a pretty significant difference!
When comparing people with a glycemic control of 7% or greater to people with a glycemic control of less than 7%, those with a glycemic control of 7% or greater all had hearing loss. Their hearing losses broke down this way: mild to moderate loss, 56%; moderate to severe, 35%; and severe to profound, 9%.
Of those people with a glycemic control of less than 7%, only 40% had hearing losses and all their hearing losses were only mild to moderate. Thus, it appears that it is vitally important to your hearing health to keep your glycemic control (hemoglobin A1c levels) to less than 7% if at all possible.
When comparing severity of hearing loss to the length of time a person had diabetes, the results generally revealed that the longer you have diabetes, the more severe your resulting hearing loss. For example, for those people with diabetes for more than 8 years, 8% had mild to moderate losses, 75% had moderate to severe losses and 17% had severe to profound losses. The corresponding hearing losses for those with diabetes for fewer than 8 years were 69%, 18% and 5%.
Notice the enormous shift from those with mild to moderate losses in the fewer than 8 year group (69%) to moderate to severe losses in the more than 8 year group (75%).
Although these are preliminary findings, it appears that getting your diabetes under control as soon as possible, and maintaining a glycemic control of less than 7%, will give you the best chance of retaining your hearing and preventing increasing hearing loss the longer you have diabetes.
(1) Bainbridge, Kathleen, and Catherine Cowie. “Correlates of Hearing Impairment in the U.S. Population with Diabetes, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1999-2004.” Bethesda, MD. Abstract No. 957-P. American Diabetes Association.
(2) Ismail, Mohammed, and Prcasanna Venkatesan. “Diabetes and Auditoryneuropathy” Mangalore, India. Abstract No. 28-LB. American Diabetes Association.