FRIDAY, Nov. 16 (HealthDay News) -- People with diabetes may
have a higher risk of hearing problems than those without the
disease, a new research review confirms.
Combining the results of 13 past studies, Japanese researchers
found that impaired hearing was twice as common among people with
diabetes compared to those without. And the effects of older age
did not seem to explain it.
The link between diabetes and hearing loss was actually stronger
among people who were 60 or younger than among older adults. In the
younger group, people with diabetes had a 2.6 times higher
likelihood of impaired hearing.
That's an interesting finding, said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director
of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New
It's consistent with the idea that poor blood sugar control --
which damages blood vessels and nerves throughout the body -- and
not simply old age might explain why people with diabetes have more
hearing problems, said Zonszein, who was not involved in the
Still, he said, "this is an observational association, and
additional studies are needed to clarify the relationship between
diabetes and prevalence of hearing impairment."
Findings from "observational" studies, where researchers compare
diabetics with non-diabetics, cannot prove a cause-and-effect
relationship. They can only show a correlation between diabetes and
What's more, Zonszein said, no one knows yet whether gaining
better control over your blood sugar will curb any risk of hearing
The findings, published online this week in the
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, are
based on studies involving more than 20,000 people from the United
States, Asia, Australia and Brazil. All but one study found an
association between diabetes and a higher prevalence of hearing
In one national sample of Americans, for example, close to half
of adults with diabetes had some degree of hearing loss compared
with about 20 percent of their diabetes-free counterparts.
Across the studies, neither age nor exposure to a noisy
workplace explained the connection between diabetes and hearing
loss, said Chika Horikawa, a dietitian at Niigata University in
Japan, who led the analysis.
There could still be explanations other than diabetes itself,
Horikawa said. Certain medications many diabetics take,
particularly blood-pressure-lowering diuretics, can affect hearing,
Another limit of the analysis, Zonszein said, is that many
studies did not differentiate between people with type 1 and type 2
diabetes. Type 2 diabetes, which often is related to aging and
obesity, is far more common than type 1, which is an immune-system
disease that usually arises at a young age.
Still, Horikawa said, the findings suggest it may be a good idea
for people with any form of diabetes to have their hearing tested.
Some research suggests that hearing loss may increase the odds of
depression and dementia, potentially adding an even greater load to
the burden of diabetes.
In reality, routine screening is done infrequently. Primary care
doctors may not even ask diabetic patients about their hearing,
"We're not very good at detecting this during routine office visits," he said.
Diabetes is tied to a range of complications, including heart
disease, kidney failure and vision loss from damage to the eyes'
During office visits, doctors usually focus on bigger-picture
things such as overall blood sugar control, diet and weight
control, Zonszein explained.
Routinely sending patients without obvious hearing problems for
a screening test "might sound simple, but, practically speaking,
it's difficult," Zonszein noted. People would have to take time off
work to see a specialist, and, of course, there's a price tag,
Zonszein pointed out.
For now, he suggested that people with diabetes be aware of any
changes in their hearing. "Be proactive," Zonszein said. "If you
notice any hearing loss, tell your doctor about it."
According to the American Diabetes Association, some common
signs of impaired hearing include: frequently having to ask other
people to repeat themselves, feeling that others are mumbling and
cranking the TV or radio volume to levels that are too loud for the
people around you.
Almost 26 million people in the United States have diabetes,
according to the American Diabetes Association. More than 34
million Americans have some type of hearing loss, and that number
is rising as the baby boom generation ages.
Learn more about diabetes and hearing loss from the
American Diabetes Association.
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