A major health concern, hearing loss affects nearly 34.5 million Americans. Diabetic hearing loss is believed to be caused by high blood glucose levels, which damage the blood vessels and nerves in the inner ear. The National Institute of Health (NIH), National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), and National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) found that hearing loss is two times as common in people with diabetes and in a study done by Dutch researches in two health clinics, 19.7% of diabetes patients used hearing aids compared with 2.3% of those without diabetes. In people with pre-diabetes the instance of hearing loss is 30% higher than among people with normal blood glucose levels. A gradual process, hearing loss can often go unnoticed by those who have it.


Sensorineural Diabetic Hearing Loss


The most common form of hearing loss and that found among diabetics is sensorineural hearing loss; it cannot be cured but hearing aids may help. Caused by cochlear or eighth cranial nerve lesion, sensorineural hearing loss affects high frequency sound. There is also some suggestion that hearing loss among diabetics is related to a reduced level of the protein keratin, which protects the ear and can prevent infection from bacteria and fungi, and tissue damage in the ear canal. Depression and isolation are also common amongst diabetics who experience hearing loss. An inability to hear in loud rooms or having to ask people to repeat themselves can lead to frustration and embarrassment, making hearing aids a good choice of treatment. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) suggest that all diabetic patients get their hearing tested.


The Debate About Diabetic Hearing Loss


There are several causes of hearing loss in the general population: noise exposure, ototoxic drugs, and presbycusis. The link between hearing loss and diabetes has been under debate since the 1960s however the NIDDK, NIH, and NIDCD’s comprehensive study shows conclusive evidence that the two are related. The test was conducted from 1999 to 2004 with a test group 11,405 individuals between the ages of 20 and 69 years old. The anatomy of the ear furthers the difficulty of examining the affects of diabetes on the ear as the cochlea is impossible to examine visually since it is embedded in the temporal bone, though in autopsies the effects have been studied. Unfortunately there has been little data to suggest that hearing loss can be prevented or stopped in diabetics. It recommended that loud sounds are avoided or protective earplugs used, as well as a general avoidance of ototoxic medications.