28 July 2010

GPs do not notice hearing loss enough

An Australian study has shown that a patients hearing impairment is not always caught by the GP. This does not just have consequences for the individual, but for society as a whole.

It is natural to go to your GP when you need help, but if you yourself are not aware that it is your hearing that is the problem, it cannot be taken for granted that the GP will notice it. These are the findings of a study by the Westmead Millenium Institute at the University of Sydney, Australia, in which data from 1998-2000 and 2003-2008 was analysed.

Especially age-related hearing loss is missed
"In their routine consultations with patients, GPs have opportunities to identify hearing loss and appropriately refer patients to specialists or allied health professionals. But they appeared to identify relatively few cases of hearing loss opportunistically," said Prof. Mitchell, the head of the study. This means that it is especially older patients who miss out.

The study concludes that general practitioners should play a bigger role in the detection and treatment of age-related hearing loss.

More attention needed in future
A number of factors may contribute to low rates of GP involvement in detecting age-related hearing loss, including time constraints, inadequate remuneration or lack of awareness of simple tools to identify hearing loss. Prof Mitchell said internet-based education programs could be used to educate GPs about the importance of early identification of age-related hearing loss.

He stresses that to increase the number of older people who receive the benefits of timely and efficacious treatment for age-related hearing loss, it is necessary to shine a light on the GP’s role in regards to diagnosing hearing loss.

Expensive for society
Untreated hearing loss is expensive for the individual, with common feelings of frustration, loneliness and isolation. It is, however, also expensive for society not to treat poor hearing. It can result in absence from work, sick days and rising medical costs. In Europe alone, untreated hearing loss costs 213 billion Euros per year. This equals about 473 Euros per year for each adult European. “The costs to society of untreated hearing loss are so high that something must be done about it. Hearing loss is relatively inexpensive to treat. Common sense dictates that this problem should be taken extremely seriously,” says Kim Ruberg, Secretary General, Hear-it AISBL.

Age-related hearing loss
We all begin to lose our hearing when we are in our 30s and 40s. One adult in five and more than half of all people over the age of 80 suffer from hearing loss. However, more than half of the hearing impaired population is of working age. Age related hearing loss is also called Presbyacusis.

Source: www.medicalnewstoday.com, ”Evaluation of the Social and Economic Costs of Hearing Impairment”, October 2006, Hear-it AISBL

Read more:

Symptoms of hearing loss

Age-related hearing loss

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