Women with diabetes may be at risk for hearing loss, research finds

DETROIT — Female diabetes patients may experience a greater degree of hearing loss as they get older, particularly if their condition is not well-controlled by medication, according to a new study conducted at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Researchers at the hospital reviewed records for 990 patients that had audiograms performed between 2000 and 2008 at Henry Ford. Patients were categorized by gender, age (younger than 60 years old, between ages 60 to 75 years and older than 75 years old), and if they had diabetes. Those with diabetes were divided into two groups: well-controlled or poorly controlled, as determined by the American Diabetes Association guidelines. After examining patients' pure tone average — a measurement that determines hearing level at certain frequency — as well as speech recognition, the team evaluated pure tone average ranges that focus on the frequency at which most people speak, in addition to the very high frequencies used in music and alarms.

The Henry Ford team concluded that women ages 60 to 75 years with poorly controlled diabetes had significantly worse hearing, compared with those with well-controlled diabetes and the control group. What's more, women younger than 60 years old — regardless of whether or not it was being controlled — had worse hearing than nondiabetic women. Meanwhile, there was no significant difference in hearing between men with diabetes that well-controlled or poorly controlled, as well as those men who did not have diabetes.

"A certain degree of hearing loss is a normal part of the aging process for all of us, but it is often accelerated in patients with diabetes, especially if blood-glucose levels are not being controlled with medication and diet," said Derek Handzo, of the Department of Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery at Henry Ford. "Our study really points to importance of patients controlling their diabetes, especially as they age, based on the impact it may have on hearing loss. Younger males in general have worse hearing, enough so to possibly mask any impact diabetes may have on hearing. But our findings really call for future research to determine the possible role gender plays in hearing loss."


Interested in this topic? Sign up for our weekly Collaborative Care e-newsletter.