Diabetics Twice As Likely to Suffer Hearing Loss

Hearing loss occurs about twice as often in adults wh0 have diabetes as it does in people who don't have the disease, according to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health. "Hearing loss may be an under-recognized complication of diabetes. As diabetes becomes more common, the disease may become a more significant contributor to hearing loss," said senior author Catherine Cowie, Ph.D., of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, who suggested that people with diabetes should consider having their hearing tested.

"Our study found a strong and consistent link between hearing impairment and diabetes using a number of different outcomes," she said.

The researchers discovered the higher rate of hearing loss by analyzing the results of hearing tests given to a nationally representative sample of U.S. adults. They said the link between diabetes and hearing loss was evident across all frequencies, with a stronger association in the high frequency range. Mild or greater hearing impairment of low- or mid-frequency sounds in the worse ear was about 21 percent in 399 adults with diabetes against only 9 percent in 4,741 adults without diabetes. For high frequency sounds, mild or greater hearing impairment in the worse ear was 54 percent in those with diabetes compared to 32 percent in those who did not have it.

The study, which was published online on Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, was conducted by researchers from NIDDK, the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, and Social & Scientific Systems, Inc. According to NIH, half of the 11,405 survey participants ages 20 to 69 were randomly assigned to have their hearing tested, and nearly 90 percent of them completed the hearing exam and the diabetes questionnaire. "Using the data from the hearing tests, we measured hearing impairment in eight different ways. Also, participants responded to questions about hearing loss in the questionnaire, which asked whether they had a little trouble hearing, a lot of trouble hearing, or were deaf without a hearing aid," said Cowie. Also, 2,259 of the participants who received hearing tests were randomly assigned to have their blood glucose tested after an overnight fast.

Earlier U.S. studies that examined diabetes and hearing loss found a weaker association or no association, but these studies were based on smaller samples of older adults and were not nationally representative, said co-author Howard Hoffman, an epidemiologist at NIDCD.

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