Reduced kidney function may increase the likelihood of developing hearing impairment, according to a new study from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

The study, “Association Between Cystatin C and 20-Year Cumulative Incidence of Hearing Impairment in the Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study,” was published today in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery. Carla Schubert, from the UW department of ophthalmology and visual sciences, is the lead researcher on the study.

The study looked at data from the long-term, population- based Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study (EHLS) in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. The EHLS began baseline exams in 1993 and participants were examined about every five years, with the most recent exams conducted from 2014- 2016. There were 863 participants, age 48 to 86 years and without hearing impairment at baseline, included in this study. The research team looked at the marker cystatin C, a protein measured in blood that can be used to estimate kidney function. The researchers found some age-related hearing impairment may occur as the result of reduced kidney function.

This is the first hearing study published from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health using this long-term data from Beaver Dam.

“This is a very innovative study as it spans 20 years and we are fortunate to work with the people of Beaver Dam; we could not do our work without their support.” said Schubert. “We can’t say there is a direct correlation but we did see an increased likelihood that reduced kidney function could also affect your hearing.”

Karen Cruickshanks, PhD, professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and population health sciences, is the principal investigator of the study.
Other authors include: Drs. Barbara and Ronald Klein, associate professors in ophthalmology and visual sciences; researchers Adam Paulsen, David Nondahl, Dayna Dalton, and Theodore Tweed; and associate scientist Mary Fischer.