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Prevalence of hearing loss among adults age 20 to 69 years continues to decline

December 15, 2016

In a study published online by JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, Howard J. Hoffman, M.A., of the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md., and colleagues examined if age- and sex-specific prevalence of adult hearing loss has changed during the past decade.

Since 1959, the United States has conducted surveys measuring hearing thresholds in nationally representative samples at specified ages. It was previously found that high-frequency hearing thresholds for people of specified age and sex groups were better in 1999-2004 than in 1959-1962. For the current study, the researchers analyzed hearing test results from adults ages 20 to 69 years from the 2011-2012 cycle of the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a nationally representative interview and examination survey, and compared them with data from the 1999-2004 cycles.

The researchers found that the 2011-2012 nationally weighted adult prevalence of hearing impairment (HI) was 14 percent (27.7 million) compared with 16 percent (28 million) for the 1999-2004 cycles. Hearing loss was associated with age, other demographic factors (sex, race/ethnicity, and educational level), and noise exposure. Men had nearly twice the prevalence of HI (18.6 percent [17.8 million]) as women (9.6 percent [9.7 million]). For individuals ages 60 to 69 years, HI prevalence was 39 percent.

The authors write that the continuing decline in the prevalence of HI in adults ages 20 to 69 years may represent delayed onset of age-related hearing loss. They add that this finding, combined with earlier reports showing improvement of hearing, suggests a beneficial trend that spans at least half a century. "Explanations for this trend are speculative, but could include reduction in exposure to occupational noise (fewer manufacturing jobs, more use of hearing protection devices), less smoking, and better management of other cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension and diabetes."

The researchers note that reducing obstacles to use hearing aids through educating patients about the importance of amplification, training health care professionals to understand and overcome patients' perceived barriers, improving the quality and affordability of hearing aid devices, and increasing access to hearing health services are important public health objectives in view of the high prevalence of hearing loss in the U.S. adult population.

"Despite the benefit of delayed onset of HI, hearing health care needs will increase as the U.S. population grows and ages," the authors conclude.
(JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. Published online December 15, 2016. doi:10.1001/jamaoto.2016.3527. The study is available pre-embargo at the For The Media website.)

Editor's Note: Please see the article for additional information, including other authors, author contributions and affiliations, financial disclosures, funding and support, etc.

The JAMA Network Journals

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