In the study, of adults aged 50 years and older, 54 percent of people with moderate kidney disease had some extent of hearing loss, while 30 percent of those with the disease suffered severe hearing loss.
That's higher than in the general population: According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, hearing loss affects 18 percent of U.S. adults aged 45 to 64.
Earlier studies had shown a link between kidney disease and hearing loss in certain rare syndromes. However, the new study, published today in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases, expands on that by showing that the link can exist for any older adult with kidney disease.
In the U.S., there are 31 million adults in the living with kidney disease, 7.5 million of whom have moderate forms. Given the new findings, researchers believe that it is important for these patients to be aware of the link between their condition and hearing loss.
If you have kidney disease, you should consult your doctor about testing for hearing, said Dr. David Harris, a co-author of the study at Sydney Medical School in Australia. It's a simple test, but will help you to take special care if you do have a hearing impairment.
For most patients who lost hearing in the study, the loss was less than severe, only affecting decibel levels around that of a whisper or low conversation. Still, having a doctor help choose the appropriate hearing aid can preserve hearing, say the authors.
Because of the nature of the study, the results do not suggest that kidney disease actually causes hearing loss, just that there is a link between the two.
Dr. Robert Hopkin, who studies genetic disorders at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, also pointed out that although this study shows effects in a large population, for individuals there is still large variability. In other words, just because you have kidney disease, doesn't mean you're necessarily going to suffer hearing loss.
Hopkin, who was not involved with the study, also noted that some treatments for kidney function can affect hearing.
Some medications used to treat kidney issues include information on how much they contribute to hearing loss, he said. People need to pay attention to that.