Hearing Loss Prevalence Declines Among U.S. Adults Aged 20-69

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Hearing loss drops among US adults aged 20-69.

According to a study published in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head & Neck Surgery, the prevalence of hearing loss has continued to decline among U.S. adults aged 20 to 69 years. This is thought to be at least in part due to more awareness around the causes of hearing loss - including long-term noise exposure, work-related noise exposure, and a lowered incidence of smoking, which is a risk factor for hearing loss.

The study of the decline of hearing loss among U.S. adults aged 20 to 69, even as the population of older Americans continues to grow, also confirmed that hearing loss is strongly associated with age and other demographic factors including sex, race/ethnicity, and education.

The researchers compared hearing health data collected over two time periods: 2011–2012 and 1999–2004. The study participants listened to tones of various frequencies presented at different levels of loudness, and defined hearing loss as an average hearing threshold greater than 25 decibels (sound at the level of leaves rustling.)

The researchers saw that overall, hearing loss prevalence dropped from 16 percent to 14 percent (almost 300,000 less people had hearing loss in the later time period.) The decline in hearing loss rates among adults under age 70 suggested to researchers that age-related hearing loss can potentially be delayed until later in life.

The researchers could only pinpoint correlations, not a clear causation for the decline in hearing loss. It was suspected that a lower number of people working manufacturing jobs, increased use of hearing protectors, a lowered overall rate of smoking, and better medical care as well as medical advances were key to reducing the rate of hearing loss.

Age remained the strongest predictor of hearing loss, and men were approximately twice as likely as women to have hearing loss. Lower education levels and heavy use of firearms were also associated with hearing loss.

While there is no intervention which has yet been shown to prevent the progression of age-related hearing loss, hearing aids can improve quality of life. However, another study published in JAMA points to the likelihood that only 4-22 percent of those with hearing loss actually use hearing aids, showing that more education and accessibility is needed.

A priority for hearing professionals should be to reduce obstacles to use of hearing aids via patient education and learning how to overcome patient objections and barriers. Health organizations and hearing aid manufacturers can help by increasing access to hearing health services, and improving the quality and affordability of hearing aid devices.

A recent study of the decline of hearing loss among U.S. adults aged 20 to 69 confirmed that hearing loss is strongly associated with age and other demographic factors including sex, race/ethnicity and education.