A new study, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, estimates about 29 million American adults, or one out of six, have speech frequency hearing loss, which affects people's overall ability to hear speech. The study also estimates that 55 million Americans have high-frequency hearing loss.
Men were five times more likely than women to be hearing impaired. Blacks were 70% less likely than whites to be hearing impaired. White and Mexican-American men ranging in age from 20 to 39 had the greatest prevalence of high-frequency hearing loss and hearing loss in both ears.
The study examined data from a national survey, which included hearing tests, given to 5,742 Americans aged 20 to 69 from 1999 to 2004.
"Increases in hearing loss prevalence occurred earlier among participants with smoking, noise exposure, and cardiovascular risks," wrote Yuri Agrawal, of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and colleagues.
The frequency of hearing loss has soared because of the growing number of elderly people and the rising use of personal listening devices, such as headsets, the researchers write. But because hearing loss can limit a person's ability to communicate clearly and connect socially, in turn negatively affecting their productivity at work and overall well-being, limiting its prevalence could produce public health benefits.
"The results of our study suggest that prevention and screening must begin at least in young adulthood and that efforts should be intensified among white and Mexican-American men," write Agrawal and colleagues.
By Robynne Boyd
Reviewed by Louise Chang
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