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US hearing loss approaching epidemic proportions

One of three US adults already suffers from some degree of hearing loss and the use of personal stereos and an aging population may create a hearing impairment epidemic, according to a study carried out by a team of scientists at Johns Hopkins University.

The researchers estimated that 55 million Americans have hearing loss in one or both ears, with men, whites and the least-educated most affected, while one out of six, or 29 million adults, have some trouble discerning speech, more than previous estimates, they reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

“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,” Dr. Yuri Agrawal of the Baltimore hospital wrote.

It is common for people to ignore or disavow hearing loss, the researchers said, leading to difficulty communicating that can result in productivity problems at work, depression, and less access to health care that ultimately raises the risk of sickness and death.

Hearing loss is common among people 70 and older, according to the report. But hearing loss also affected 8.5% of those in their 20s and 17% of people in their 30s. Exposure to workplace noise, firearms, and loud music were all risk factors.

Assessing health information collected from 5,700 Americans aged 20 to 69 years between 1999 and 2004 in the federal National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Agrawal and colleagues found men were twice as likely as women (21% versus 11%) to have speech-frequency hearing loss in one or both ears.

Whites were more than twice as prone to hearing loss than blacks, and those with less education were more at risk than those who completed high school or beyond. Also dramatically increasing the chances of hearing loss were smoking, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Screening for hearing loss should begin in young adulthood, particularly for vulnerable groups, Agrawal concluded.

SOURCE: Reuters