02 April 2009

Hearing loss epidemic approaching in the US

The use of personal stereos and an aging society may lead to a hearing loss epidemic.
Hearing loss epidemic approaching in the US

One in three adults in North America, or as many as 55 million people, suffer some degree of hearing loss in one or both ears, according to a study carried out by a team of scientists at Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland.

One adult in six has difficulties understanding a normal conversation, indicating a higher hearing loss prevalence than previously assumed.

“The prevalence of hearing loss in the United States is predicted to rise significantly because of an aging population and the growing use of personal listening devices. Indeed, there is concern that we may be facing an epidemic of hearing impairment,” pointed out Dr. Yuri Agrawal, one of the researchers.

The study was based on thorough analysis of data collected from 5,742 Americans, aged 20 to 69 years, in a national survey, conducted from 1999 to 2004. The study found that 8. 5 percent of the participants aged 20 to 30 years had high frequency hearing loss compared to 17 percent of those aged 30 to 39.

Difference in gender, race and educational level

The study revealed that gender, race and educational levels may be factors in the incidence of hearing loss.

Men are twice more likely to be affected by hearing loss than women. Up to 21 percent of men suffered from hearing loss compared to 11 percent of women. White and Mexican American men were more likely to suffer from hearing loss than African-Americans. Black participants were found to be 70 percent less likely than white participants to suffer from hearing loss. Participants with lower education seemed to be at higher risk of hearing loss, together with patients who were smokers or those suffering from hypertension and diabetes.

Reasons and consequences

No explanations were given for the differences in hearing loss prevalence between gender, race and educational levels, although the researchers agreed with previous studies that the general increase of hearing loss in the US is due to exposure to noise in the workplace, from firearms and from excessively loud music.

Researchers suggested the implementation of public programs to prevent hearing loss, especially among young people. The consequences of untreated hearing loss include difficulties in communicating, affecting productivity and quality of life. It may lead to social isolation and depression and hinder those affected from accessing medical care.


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