According to the ADA, diabetes and hearing loss are two of America’s most widespread health concerns. Nearly 30 million people in the U.S. have diabetes, and an estimated 34.5 million have some type of hearing loss. While these numbers may be startling, linking diabetes to hearing loss specifically has been challenging due to the varying factors within groups studied. Right now we don’t know how diabetes is related to hearing loss. It’s possible that the high blood glucose levels associated with diabetes cause damage to the small blood vessels in the inner ear.
ASHA reports that the pathophysiological explanation for diabetes-related hearing loss is speculative. Diabetic complications including retinopathy, nephropathy, and peripheral arterial disease are primarily vascular in origin. 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.
Prospective studies designed to test whether hearing impairment has an earlier onset among persons with diabetes than among persons without diabetes would establish the temporal relationship and advance the argument that diabetes precedes and is contributing to the hearing impairment.
Audiologists seeing middle-aged patients with unexplained hearing loss may wish to inquire about history of diabetes and family history of diabetes. Patients with diabetes should be encouraged in their efforts to maintain good blood glucose control in accordance with guidelines from the American Diabetes Association (2010). Patients who do not have diabetes but who have a parent or a sibling with diabetes should be informed that they are at increased risk of diabetes and may benefit from regular blood glucose testing.
Persons concerned about hearing loss should always talk to their primary care provider. From there you may want to speak with a hearing specialist such as an audiologist, or a doctor who specializes in hearing impairments. From a full hearing exam, you will learn more about your hearing loss. You will also be told what can be done to treat it.