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Hearing Loss Statistics

By Jessica Thomas June 30, 2021 Aging

Hearing loss is a problem that affects millions of Americans. Although no group is immune from hearing loss issues – and its associated costs, such as potential depression, anxiety, and a sense of loneliness and isolation – the risks rise as people age. Therefore, hearing loss is particularly prevalent among senior citizens. Below are 30 important hearing loss statistics to know about hearing loss. Being well-informed will help you address your own hearing loss more effectively and ensure that you maintain a high quality of life. 

Statistics About Hearing Loss

#1. Hearing challenges are not always synonymous with hearing loss 

Many Americans report hearing loss that requires them to seek treatment, such as hearing aids. But, some hearing problems are more subtle. Some people may only struggle to hear certain frequencies or types of sound.  Roughly 1 in 7 adult Americans report these types of sub-clinical challenges. 

#2. Almost 30 million Americans have hearing loss 

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), slightly fewer than 30 million Americans under 70 have hearing loss. This hearing loss can definitely vary dramatically in severity. Interestingly, even though the American population is aging, the number of impacted individuals has remained relatively constant in recent years. 

#3. No demographic group is immune from hearing loss 

Anyone can be affected by hearing loss. In fact, many infants are born with severe, congenital hearing loss. But, certain groups are more likely to be impacted than others. One of the most affected groups is older adults, as hearing loss increases with age. One out of every two Americans over the age of 75 currently has severe hearing loss that impacts their ability to carry out normal functions and negatively impacts their quality of life. 

#4. Disabling hearing loss is slightly less common with younger seniors 

The disturbing statistic highlighted in fact #3 declines slightly in younger patient cohorts. For those between the ages of 65 and 74, the relevant statistic drops to approximately 25 percent.

#5. And the figures reported in #3 and #4 are even lower for individuals between the ages of 45 and 54 

For this younger patient demographic, percentages are even lower. Roughly 2 percent of individuals within this group will have disabling levels of hearing loss. These dramatic changes in percentages across cohorts seem to clearly indicate that hearing loss is age-related (at least to a certain degree).

#6. Gender plays a significant role in hearing loss

Gender plays an important role in shaping someone’s risk of developing hearing loss too.  Men are far more likely than women than women to have hearing loss, holding all other factors constant. 

#7. White Americans are more likely than black Americans to have hearing loss

In addition, not all groups have the same risk of developing hearing loss. White Americans are the most likely group  to have a hearing loss, whereas black Americans are the least likely demographic group to be impacted. The reasons behind this racial disparity are still being explored, and the chance that this disparity actually simply represents under-diagnosis and treatment in this demographic group.  

#8. Hearing aids are not the only treatment for hearing loss. More than 100,000 adult Americans have received cochlear implants

The vast majority of people with severe levels of hearing loss turn to hearing aids to help them restore their quality of life. But, hearing aids are not the only treatment interventions. Many people seek out cochlear implants. Almost 120,000 adult Americans have received cochlear implants. There is some degree of uncertainty about this figure since there is no single data clearinghouse that reports implant figures.  It is important to remember that everyone’s insurance company may not cover these expensive implants. And, some people may end up priced out of the market. You should also keep in mind that these implants may not work for all challenging ear/hearing issues. 

#9. Tinnitus is a common problem, affecting between 10 and 15 percent of Americans

Tinnitus is one of the most common hearing problems that people experience in the United States. But, it is also a poorly understood problem. What is tinnitus? Tinnitus happens when a person hears ringing in their ears. For many people, tinnitus is debilitating, and sufferers may struggle with daily tasks. Statistics indicate that between 10 and 15 percent of Americans  have tinnitus. As will be discussed below, some hearing aids can help mitigate tinnitus symptoms. 

#10. Hearing aids may help with tinnitus 

Many individuals have struggled for years with tinnitus, which is largely because there are limited treatment options. However, hearing aids may help alleviate the impact of some symptoms. If you suffer from these symptoms, make sure to discuss this with your providers so that they can guide you to the best hearing aids for tinnitus. 

#11. Workplace noise exposure is a common source of hearing loss 

There are other reasons that can account for hearing loss. Another common cause is repeated workplace exposure to loud noises, especially if this exposure happens without ear protection. 

#12.  Hearing loss from the workplace is the cause of approximately 1 in 4 hearing losses 

In fact, both the statistics and anecdotal evidence seem very clear. Roughly 25 percent of hearing loss cases can be linked to workplace exposure.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recognize that this is a challenge, and they have attempted to put protections in place? 

#13. Workplace exposure happens when sound exceeds 85 decibels 

Workplace exposure takes two common forms. The first is regularly being exposed to sound that is louder than 85 decibels. People are regularly shocked to find out that 85 decibels are not all that loud. Therefore, in addition to controlling noise levels, many labor activists are focused on ensuring workers have access to the relevant PPE to protect their ears and hearing. 

#14. Ototoxic chemical exposure is another common way that workplaces can threaten someone’s hearing 

The second type of potentially damaging exposure on the job that may happen is employees receiving (for a variety of different possible reasons) an ototoxic chemical. Ototoxic chemicals generally weaken the ear. However, in some cases, it may turn the ear into a super organ, capable of hearing things that the ordinary person cannot. But, this power can be horribly frustrating for many. Roughly 10 million workers in the United States are exposed to ototoxic chemicals each year, and the actual figure may be even higher. 

#15. Many commonly used products contain ototoxic chemicals

To help raise awareness about this challenge, some products that are often filled with ototoxic dangers are listed below. This list includes mercury and lead samples, carbon dioxide samples, and various solvents. Some prescription and OTC (over-the-counter) medications may also be ototoxic.  More than 200 medications are ototoxic, including many common anti-inflammatories, as well as various classes of antibiotics. 

#16. The federal government has put a program in place targeted at workplace noise reduction

This program operates under the auspices of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). One of its primary goals is to reduce harmful noise associated with machinery.

#17.  Most ear infections impact the middle ear

When hearing loss is associated with ear infections, it is generally with otitis media or infections of the middle ear. These infections are potentially damaging because they can harm the bones of the ear that transmit sound vibrations. Once these bones have been damaged, they, unfortunately, do not recover. 

#18. Hearing loss can also be congenital, even though these cases represent a small fraction of all hearing loss

Congenital hearing losses are more common than many people think. The two most common are autosomal dominant and autosomal recessive. There are other genetic, hereditary conditions that may only be passed on to one gender or another. 

#19.  Hearing aids are the single best treatment option for millions of people with hearing loss 

As noted above, many Americans are now benefiting from cochlear implants. But, these implants are not the answer for everyone. To date, the number of implants still remains relatively small compared with the number of hearing aid users. Hearing aids are less invasive and much less costly than these implants. 

#20. Statistics show that millions of Americans could benefit from wearing hearing aids 

In fact, one recent study showed that almost 30 million Americans would benefit from wearing hearing aids. In addition, not all of these individuals have profound or severe hearing loss. Even people with milder hearing loss can see an improvement in their hearing and quality of life by wearing hearing aids. 

#21. Yet, only a tiny fraction of the people mentioned in fact #20 actually wear hearing aids 

Similar studies and statistics support this conclusion. Only one in six people wear a device that would seemingly dramatically help improve their quality of life. This raises the question of why? Some of these whys will be explored in the facts below. 

#22. Cost is likely the primary barrier to hearing aid use, with a single hearing aid costing more than $2000 

Hearing aids are undoubtedly expensive. One article suggests that the average price of a single hearing aid runs more than $2000. Remember, hearing aid prices are for a single device, not for the pair that most people need. Prices may skyrocket even further if the hearing aid model has the latest bells and whistles technologically. 

#23. The high cost of hearing aids is largely paid for by consumers … with limited exceptions 

Most consumers must pay hearing aid costs out-of-pocket. The vast majority of commercial insurance plans do not cover hearing aids. However, some hearing aid providers have set up financing options. Plus, some groups of consumers, such as military veterans, may receive some benefits. But, even with veterans, there can be stringent and restrictive qualifications set up. 

#24.  The purchase price is not the only cost associated with hearing aids, and other costs may be prohibitive 

Consumers also face other costs associated with hearing aids that can quickly become price prohibitive, especially for seniors on a fixed income. One of the highest costs is batteries. Battery costs can vary dramatically, but it is not hard for this cost to run into hundreds of dollars per year. An increasing number of hearing aid models now offer rechargeable batteries, but the purchase price of these models is often higher. 

#25. Price is not the only barrier to hearing aid wear. Patient reluctance also plays a driving role  

Even though hearing aid costs may be the primary hurdle to many people wearing hearing aids, it is most definitely not the only barrier. For example, many people are reluctant to reach out to their medical provider and discuss hearing loss. There is still a stigma attached to this issue and, it is often family members who push for help. 

#26. And help with hearing loss is essential, especially for older Americans, since hearing loss is linked with other severe problems  

An increasing body of research has noted a link between age-related hearing loss and cognitive decline. The exact mechanism behind this link is still open to debate. However, researchers seem to suggest that if we could effectively address hearing loss, we could likely cut the risk of dementia.  Researchers suggest that more than 30 percent of dementia risk is linked with hearing loss. 

In recent years, despite the general greying of the American population, there has been a slight decline in hearing loss rates for the under 70 demographic. This is undoubtedly positive. But, one should be cautious about putting too much weight on the stat. It is not clear if this trend will continue moving forward. 

#28. Even though hearing loss most significantly impacts individuals over 70, hearing loss often starts decades earlier 

Many people start experiencing mild to moderate changes in their hearing decades before they actually begin wearing hearing aids. Sometimes these changes are so subtle that they do not even notice this gradual loss of their sense. Interestingly, women frequently begin to experience hearing loss between 40 and 59.

#29. 30% of men first notice hearing issues between 20 and 39 

Perhaps not surprisingly, men may start experiencing symptoms of hearing loss at a younger age than their female counterparts. Roughly 30 percent of men first have symptoms between the ages of 20 and 39. And, more than 10 percent of men have symptoms even in their teenage years. 

#30. Investments in hearing health would generate significant returns on minimal investments globally 

For a wide range of reasons, governments worldwide have not invested funds in boosting their population’s hearing health. But, the World Health Organization (WHO), and other organizations, note that these investments would likely generate significant returns. WHO estimates that a dollar of investment will generate approximately $16 in returns over the medium- to long term. This is an impressive multiplier. 

Things to Know About Hearing Loss

Hearing loss can affect anyone at any age, but as the statistics show, as you age, the likelihood of experiencing hearing problems also increases. The good news is there are lots of hearing loss resources available for anyone going through hearing problems to keep well-informed and ensure that you maintain a high quality of life.

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The Author

Jessica Thomas is a Public Health Professional, Health & Wellness Writer, and Entrepreneur. She has a B.S. in Health Administration with a focus on Aging Studies and an M.D. in Public Health. Before starting her business, Jessica worked for over 3 years as a Program Coordinator and Performance Improvement Leader in a hospital setting. Her roles focused on various senior initiatives such as fall reduction, preventing delirium, and addressing barriers in the healthcare system. Today, Jessica enjoys learning and educating others on aging in place, how tech solutions can help seniors, and health and wellness topics.

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