by Neil Bauman, Ph.D.
A recent study revealed that the incidence of hearing loss in the USA has been grossly under-reported. Four or Five years ago when everyone was quoting 28 million hard of hearing people in the USA, I proclaimed that the true incidence of hearing loss was about double that (56 million). As a result, I caught flak from a hearing loss organization for not being a “team player” and reporting the “accepted” figures.
Now I have been vindicated. In a study done by Dr. Yuri Agrawal and colleagues, of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD, and reported in the July 28 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, an estimated 55 million Americans have high-frequency hearing loss.
Here’s more details. The results were based on hearing tests “administered to 5,742 Americans age 20 to 69 from 1999 to 2004. Researchers assessed hearing loss of 25 dB or higher at speech frequencies (0.5, 1, 2 and 4 kilohertz) and at high frequencies (3, 4 and 6 kilohertz).” (1)
Sixteen percent “(an estimated 29 million) American adults had speech frequency hearing loss in one (8.9%) or both ears (7.3%). Thirty-one percent of participants (equivalent to an estimated 55 million Americans) had high-frequency hearing loss [12% in one ear and 19% in both]. High frequency hearing loss was found in participants age 20 to 29 (8.5% prevalence) and in those age 30 to 39 (17% prevalence).”
Suddenly the accepted figure for hard of hearing Americans has jumped from 31.5 million (today’s previously accepted figures) to 55 million. Now notice something important. This study just included people ages 20 to 69. What about the millions of hard of hearing people younger than 20, and older than 69? Obviously the true figure is much higher still.
Fortunately, Dave Albert, MD noticed this and explained, “I want to clarify some confusion about the Johns Hopkins article in the Archives of Internal Medicine on the demographics of hearing loss.
(1) They only looked at people age 20 to 69
(2) People 70 and over have an increasing incidence of high frequency hearing loss.
(3) Therefore, the real number of people in the US with significant hearing loss is significantly higher than the 55 million they estimate in the article.
A back of the envelope estimate would be take the 55 million (ages 20-69), add 1 million for ages 0-19 and 10 million (at least) for ages 70 to death and you will have 66 million. It is probably closer to 70 million but I am being conservative (which I am not very often).”
Newer statistics reveal that there are 72.3 million Americans under the age of 19. Conservatively, at least 15-19% of them have some degree of hearing loss which makes roughly 12 million. Furthermore, 63.1% of seniors 70 years of age or older have a hearing loss. And 63.1% of 25.5 million seniors yields 16 million.
Notice that, now we have jumped from 31.5 million to 70 million—more than double the previously accepted figures. If we add the new (2010) figures together we get 12 + 55 + 16 = 83 million Americans with significant hearing loss. I think we are finally getting much closer to the truth. There is no doubt about it. Hearing loss is at epidemic proportions in the US today! The US population is just shy of 305 million people. This means that 27% of the population—more than 1 in every 4 people—has a significant hearing loss according to these studies. I think it’s time we get serious about protecting our precious hearing!
Updated April 2, 2011.
(1) The Hearing Review July 31, 2008.