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New prevalence data shows 1 in 6 adults reports trouble hearing

September 17, 2015

One in six U.S. adults ages 18 and older reports trouble hearing without a hearing aid, according to new results from a nationally representative survey looking at hearing and hearing loss. Data from the 2014 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) show age differences in self-reported hearing loss, use of hearing aids or assistive technology, and the likelihood of seeing a doctor or other health professional for hearing loss. The findings are published in a data brief released September 17 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The analysis was done by researchers from NCHS and from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDCD collaborated with NCHS on the development of the core and supplemental NHIS questions regarding hearing. The NIDCD also co-funded the study.

Of the 16.8 percent of adults in the study who report trouble hearing, adults ages 70 and older are more likely to report trouble hearing (43.2 percent) compared to those ages 40–69 (19.0 percent), and those ages 18–39 (5.5 percent). Interestingly, men in each age group are more likely to report having trouble hearing compared to women, and men are more likely to describe having "moderate trouble" hearing (24.8 percent) compared to women (20.8 percent). For those ages 70 and older, 52.4 percent of men report trouble hearing without a hearing aid compared with 36.2 percent of women. The researchers also found differences between men and women in the self-reported causes of hearing loss.

Overall, among those reporting that they have trouble hearing, nearly two-thirds (62.6 percent) say that they have mild hearing loss, defined as "a little trouble hearing." Less than 2 percent of adults who indicate they have any trouble hearing are deaf.

The NHIS is a nationally representative survey that uses personal household interviews to gather information about a range of health topics. The annually-conducted survey contains a series of core questions—including the question about trouble hearing without the assistance of a hearing aid—that are asked every year and remain largely unchanged. The researchers also analyzed data obtained through supplemental questions about hearing. The study analyzed information about one adult randomly selected from each participating family.

Less than half (46.0 percent) of adults ages 18 and older who report any trouble hearing have seen a doctor or other health professional about their hearing or ear problems in the last five years. Those ages 70 and older who report any trouble hearing are more likely (56.8) to have seen a doctor or health professional about their hearing, compared to those ages 40–69 (41.6 percent) and those ages 18–39 (38.1 percent).

The data brief also highlights age differences in the use of hearing aids or assistive technology, which included FM systems, instant or text messages, or amplified telephones. Less than one-quarter (21.5 percent) of adults who report any trouble hearing have ever used a hearing aid, while 9.1 percent have ever used assistive technology. Adults ages 70 and older are much more likely to report having used hearing aids (42.0 percent) compared with those ages 40–69 (13.5 percent), and those ages 18–39 (4.7 percent). The use of assistive technology, however, is more likely among those ages 18–39 (12.1 percent) and least likely among those ages 40–69 (7.7 percent).

  • Men are more likely to attribute their hearing loss to long-term noise exposure (35.6 percent) or loud, brief noises, like gunfire or explosions, (14.8 percent) compared to women, 10.8 and 2.1 percent, respectively.
  • Almost half of women (45.3 percent) say that the main reason for their hearing loss is the result of getting older or aging compared with men (24.5 percent).
  • Women are more likely to report ear infections or otitis media as the main cause of their hearing loss (10.9 percent) compared to men (4.7 percent).

"The data provide interesting insight into how people assess and seek treatment for their individual hearing loss. The findings underscore the need to develop better strategies to encourage people of all ages to seek help for their hearing loss," said Howard J. Hoffman, M.A., co-author of the data brief and NIDCD director of epidemiology and statistics.

For more statistics on hearing and hearing loss, go to the NIDCD's Statistics about Hearing, Ear Infections, and Deafness webpage.

Last Updated Date: 
September 17, 2015