30 million Americans, or 13% of the American population, have hearing loss in both ears, and 48 million, or 20%, in at least one ear. About one in five Americans aged 12 and older suffer from hearing loss which is severe enough to make communication difficult, researchers from Johns Hopkins University in the US have found.
The study also found, that hearing loss doubled for every decade of life. For those in their 40s, about 2.8 million Americans suffer from hearing loss in both ears and 5.6 million have the condition in at least one ear. That number jumped to 8.8 million for Americans in their 70s who had hearing loss in both ears and 10.8 million for those who had hearing loss in at least one ear.
The study “gives us the real scope of the problem for the first time and shows us how great a problem hearing loss really is,” said lead study author Frank Lin, an assistant professor of otolaryngology and epidemiology at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore in the US.
More than a hearing problem
“Because hearing loss could eventually lead to bigger problems, such as developing dementia or social isolation, understanding how many people are affected is not a trivial matter. You need a number to begin with in order to understand the public health impact,” Lin said.
“For any adult, loss of hearing could impair their ability to communicate efficiently. And with bad hearing, your brain has to allocate more of its resources to help with hearing at the expense of cognition.”
According to Frank Lin the big problem with hearing loss is that people assume it's an unavoidable part of aging and don't seek medical help. Hearing loss normally comes on very slowly and when it happens it's easy to ignore because people have become accustomed to it.
“Anyone who suspects they have any type of hearing loss, or are constantly being told by their families that they aren't listening, should consider a consultation with an audiologist. If it's confirmed, you should really get treated. Hearing aids have proved to be a no-risk treatment,” Lin said.
Women and black people more protected
Women and black people were less likely than other groups to suffer from hearing loss, the study found. According to Frank Lin estrogen may be protective of hearing and the same cells that make skin dark may also play a role in preventing hearing loss.
Researchers in the study used data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Surveys from 2001 to 2008 for all participants ages 12 and older who had their hearing tested over that period. The survey is thought to be representative of the U.S. population.
The study was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine in November 2011.