I was recently speaking with a family member who is an MD, about the increase in diabetes over the last decade. I asked if he frequently refers those patients for hearing evaluations, and he seemed confused by my question. Research regarding the link between diabetes and hearing loss is ongoing, but recent studies have reported a strong correlation between the two. Now, to be fair, this family member is not a primary care physician and diabetes is not his specialty, but I began to understand that as an audiology graduate student and soon to be audiologist, it is imperative that I spend time educating professionals regarding the association between hearing loss and diabetes.
Diabetes is one of the most common medical conditions in the United States:
The connection between hearing loss and diabetes is still under investigation. Research suggests that high and low blood glucose levels can cause damage to the tiny blood vessels and nerves within the inner ear and decrease transmission of auditory information to the brain. Prediabetic patients, those with elevated blood glucose levels, also have a 30% greater chance of developing hearing loss. The degree to which hearing is impacted by diabetes varies from person to person, but the risk remains. Additionally, comorbidities from diabetes like hypertension and cardiovascular disease can also have adverse effects on hearing.
Individuals who have been diagnosed with diabetes should be referred to an audiologist for a baseline hearing assessment. If the disease progression or management medications begin to impact hearing, it can be quickly identified and proper intervention can be implemented. At an audiological evaluation, your provider will start off with a detailed case history. Be sure to mention any and all medical diagnoses, medications, and history of loud noise exposure across the lifespan. Next, a comprehensive hearing evaluation will be performed and should generally include your responses to tones and speech in quiet, as well as speech understanding in the presence of background noise. If a hearing loss is identified, it is important to heed the recommendations for treatment.
Considering the link between diabetes and hearing loss, it is important to have these crucial baseline evaluations and consistent monitoring of your hearing, especially if new or worsening symptoms occur. Your doctor may have already recommended this evaluation, but if they have not, seek this evaluation on your own. Advocating for your own care is crucial in effective management of diabetes.