An editorial published with the study agrees, noting that "in many cases of mild to moderate hearing loss, patients are not aware of what they cannot hear."
Data came from 5,140 U.S. adults aged 20-69 who took hearing tests as part of a government health study from 1999 to 2004.
Nearly 8% of participants said they had ever been diagnosed with diabetes, not counting women who'd had gestational diabetes.
All of the participants took hearing tests. Hearing loss was more common among those with a self-reported history of diabetes.
Among people with diabetes, 54% had at least mild hearing loss in their ability to hear high-frequency tones, compared with 32% of those with no history of diabetes. And 21% of diabetic participants had at least mild hearing loss in their ability to hear low-to-mid frequency tones, compared with 9% of those without diabetes.
A history of noise exposure didn't explain the results. Neither did age (at least in people younger than 60) or other factors.
Diabetes may damage blood vessels or nerves in the ear, but the study doesn't prove that, note the researchers. They included Kathleen Bainbridge, PhD, MPH, of Social & Scientific Systems of Silver Spring, Md.