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Hearing loss in the U.S. - Statistics & Facts

Hearing loss is the partial or total inability to hear. Hearing loss can be temporary or permanent and can be sudden or develop gradually over time. Degrees of hearing loss can range from mild or moderate to severe or profound. As of 2019, roughly 430 million people worldwide suffered from disabling hearing loss and this is projected to rise to 711 million by 2050.

Hearing loss demographics

In children, hearing problems may affect the ability to learn spoken language and, in the U.S., testing for poor hearing is typically recommended for all newborns. Adult hearing loss can be associated with age, sex, race or ethnicity, as well as educational level. Among adults who have hearing difficulties despite wearing hearing aids, the rates increase with age. Hearing difficulty rates also differ by ethnicity, and non-Hispanic White adults are more likely to experience trouble hearing. Being male is another risk factor as men are more likely than women to experience hearing problems.

Causes of hearing loss

Hearing loss may be hereditary, part of the aging process or be triggered by over-exposure to excessive noise. Other factors that induce hearing loss may include birth complications, viral or bacterial infections, injury and physical trauma to the ear or head, as well as the negative effects of certain medications or toxins. A survey on U.S. military veterans with service-related injury found that 56 percent had hearing loss and 66 percent had tinnitus, a ringing in the ears. Moreover, sometimes veterans will have trouble understanding speech despite scoring normally on a hearing test. This is another condition associated with blast exposure called auditory processing disorder.

Hearing loss treatment

Hearing aids, surgical treatments (such as a cochlear implant), and other assistive devices are used to improve the ability to hear when hearing loss occurs. However despite the availability of hearing aids, only 7.1 percent of those aged 45 and older with hearing difficulties use a hearing aid. Cost-related reasons are most commonly given as to why those with untreated hearing difficulties do not get help. Untreated hearing problems can have unforeseen consequences not just on a person's quality of life but also on their cognitive function. Johns Hopkins experts warn that mild hearing loss can double a person's dementia risk. Moderate loss can triple the risk, and people with severe hearing impairment are five-times more likely to develop dementia. Hearing tests should be conducted regularly among older adults to address this, especially when hearing problems are often not seen as an urgent issue and over half of adults with hearing difficulties have not discussed it with a professional.

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