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Diabetes and Hearing Loss


Diabetes and hearing loss are two of America's most prevalent and growing health conditions, but did you know there is a link between the two?  November is Diabetes Awareness Month, and I want to raise awareness of the link between diabetes and hearing loss. 

Diabetes currently affects approximately 10% of the U.S. population, with many more falling into the pre-diabetic stage. Diabetes results in elevated blood glucose levels in the body which causes injury to the vasculature or the neural system of the body.  Over time, diabetes can result in a host of other serious medical problems, ranging from diabetic retinopathy, to kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, and/or peripheral neuropathy.  The same mechanism may also be responsible for damage to the delicate blood vessels of the inner ear.  Diabetics are 50% more likely to have hearing loss than the general population, and according to the National Institute of Health, are also more likely to develop hearing loss at younger ages.  In a 2008 NIH study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, 68% of 5,000 diabetics tested had high-frequency hearing loss.   

Untreated hearing loss can lead to social isolation, depression, frustration, anxiety, and cognitive decline.  It can also make it more difficult to follow conversation and lead to misinterpretation or misunderstanding.  Take the diabetic patient who might visit 4 doctors in one week yet only hears or understands 50% of instructions that were explained to him or her, including medication instruction.  Yet only about 15% of physicians currently refer their diabetic patients for hearing evaluations. 

If you or a loved one has diabetes, talk to your primary care doctor about having a hearing evaluation, especially if you have noticed symptoms of hearing loss.  Patients with diabetes should maintain good blood glucose control in accordance with guidelines from the American Diabetes Association, in order to lower risk of diabetic complications including hearing loss.  This November, commit to a better quality of life through better control of diabetes, and better control of your hearing health!