Last Updated: 2008-06-16 17:00:35 -0400 (Reuters Health)

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Diabetes in adults appears to be an independent risk factor for hearing loss, according to the findings from a large, population-based study reported in the July 1st issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, posted online on June 17th. The authors suggest that the prevalence and extent of impairment may be sufficient to justify routine screening so that those affected can be offered interventions to amplify hearing.

Previous research has hinted at an increased incidence of hearing loss in patients with diabetes, the researchers note.

Led by Dr. Kathleen E. Bainbridge at Social and Scientific Systems in Silver Spring, Maryland, the team evaluated data from the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to determine the relative risk for sensorineural hearing loss in people who reported a history of diabetes.

Their analysis included 5140 individuals 20 to 69 years of age who underwent an audiometric examination; 399 reported a diagnosis of diabetes. A total of 587 subjects were hearing impaired, defined as pure tone average thresholds > 25 decibels.

The age-adjusted prevalence of low- or mid-frequency (up to 2000 Hz) hearing impairment of mild or greater severity in the worse ear was 21.3% in the diabetes group and 9.4 % in the non-diabetes group (adjusted odds ratio 1.82). A similar pattern was observed for frequencies up to 8000 Hz (54.1% vs 32.0%, respectively; adjusted OR 2.16).

"The prevalence of hearing impairment was higher among individuals with diabetes in both sexes; all groups of race or ethnicity, education, and income-poverty ratio; and all age groups but the oldest (those 60 to 69 years)," Dr. Bainbridge and her associates report.

Furthermore, they add, "People with diabetes had statistically significant increased odds of hearing impairment in worse and better ears at all levels of severity and frequency." The association remained significant after adjusting for other risk factors, including exposure to tobacco smoke, noise, or ototoxic medications.

In a related editorial, Dr. Keiko Hirose at Washington University in St. Louis notes that "in many cases of mild to moderate hearing loss, patients are not aware of what they cannot hear; thus, screening for hearing loss in individuals at risk could lead to interventions that would affect their ability to communicate, their productivity, and their safety."

Ann Intern Med 2008;149.

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