EHS professionals understand that while work-related hearing loss is an important concern, hearing loss for workers also can be attributed to off-the-job activities such as lawn care, woodworking, loud music, target practice and other activities. Now, there’s another potential cause of hearing loss for workers: type 2 diabetes.
A review of studies of possible linkages between type 2 diabetes and hearing impairment concludes there is compelling evidence that diabetes can damage the auditory system, and that clinicians should include hearing testing in managing type 2 diabetes. The survey results were published in an article titled, “Type 2 Diabetes and Hearing Impairment” in the journal Current Diabetes Reports.
“An association between diabetes and hearing impairment in human subjects has been shown in many, but not all, studies,” says Elizabeth Helzner, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics in the School of Public Health at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. “Direct comparison of these studies is complicated due to a lack of consistency in defining hearing impairment and other factors.”
Hearing impairment is one of the most pervasive disabling conditions, affecting 16.1 percent of adults in the United States. Two-thirds of adults have clinically significant hearing impairment by age 70. Hearing impairment has been associated with social isolation and depression, cognitive decline and incident dementia, a higher propensity for falls and hospitalizations and increased mortality.
Helzner says the association between diabetes and hearing impairment tends to be stronger in studies that included younger participants, perhaps because in older samples, other causes of age-related hearing impairment may mask the contribution of diabetes to the impairment. “This factor in itself lends weight to the notion that type 2 diabetes can damage hearing,” she adds.
Helzner and her co-author note in the article that the epidemiologic study of the relationship between diabetes and hearing impairment is relatively new. They add that well-designed longitudinal studies are necessary in order to explore whether patients with diabetes are at increased risk of early-onset hearing impairment, and whether the progression of hearing impairment varies based on diabetes status, as well as disease management factors, after taking other known contributors to hearing sensitivity into account.