Hearing Trouble Common in US Adults, Often Untreated

Megan Brooks

September 18, 2015

A sizeable number of US adults have trouble hearing, and they are not getting help for it, according to a new data brief from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

In the 2014 National Health Interview Survey, 1 in 6 adults aged 18 years and older, nearly 17%, reported trouble hearing without a hearing aid, report NCHS researcher Carla E. Zelaya, PhD, and colleagues.

Not surprisingly, the percentage with hearing trouble rose significantly with age: 5.5% of adults aged 18 to 39 years reported any trouble hearing, as did 19.0% of adults aged 40 to 69 years and 43.2% of adults older than 70 years.

Hearing Often Overlooked

In all age groups, men were more likely than women to have had trouble hearing. Among the 70 years and older set, 52.4% of men had trouble hearing without a hearing aid compared with 36.2% of women. Most adults who had trouble hearing had mild hearing loss, defined as "a little trouble hearing" (62.6%).

Roughly 45% of women felt that getting older was the main reason of their hearing loss compared with a little more than 24% of men. Nearly 36% of men felt that long-term exposure to noise was the main driver behind their hearing loss compared with nearly 11% of women.

Less than half of adults aged 18 years and older (46.0%) with hearing trouble but no hearing aid had seen a health professional for the problem in the last 5 years. Adults aged 70 years and older were far more apt to have sought help for their hearing problems than younger people. Patients aged 70 years and older were also much more likely to have used a hearing aid than younger people.

Knowledge about untreated hearing loss is important because it is associated with decreasing social, psychological, and cognitive functioning, Dr Zelaya and colleagues note in their report. "Age-related hearing loss is often overlooked due to its deceptively slow progression, lack of attention from providers, and public acceptance as a condition that is perceived to be a 'normal' consequence of aging," they point out.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association recommends that adults be screened for hearing trouble at least every decade through age 50 years, and at 3-year intervals thereafter.

"Self-reported Hearing Trouble in Adults Aged 18 and Over: United States, 2014." NCHS Data Brief No. 214. Published online September 17, 2015. Full text


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