February 09, 2017
3 min read

CDC: Hearing loss a significant health issue; PCPs play important role in prevention, treatment

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In the United States, hearing loss is the third most common chronic health condition, with approximately 40 million adults between the ages of 20 and 69 years having the condition due to exposure to loud noises, according to a new report by the CDC. Many people are unaware of their hearing loss, suggesting they may be unaware that it can be caused by common activities.

“It’s hard to know if you have hearing damage unless your doctor screens for it and orders a hearing test, and many people with hearing loss don't realize they have it and think their hearing is fine,” Anne Schuchat, MD, acting director of CDC, said during a telebriefing. “But it's important for health care providers and the public to understand the risk that loud sounds pose to our hearing.”

Yulia I. Carroll, MD, PhD, from the CDC, and colleagues examined hearing test results of adults between the ages of 20 and 69 years who participated in the 2011 to 2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (n = 3,583) to establish the prevalence of hearing loss and its association with sociodemographics and self-reported exposure to loud noise.

The investigators found that noise-induced hearing damage was present in one in four adults who reported excellent-to-good hearing. In addition, one-third of adults who reported job-related noise exposure had hearing damage, as did 20% of adults who reported not being exposed to job-related noise.

“About 20 million American adults have hearing damage indicative of noise exposure that probably comes from every day activities in their home and community,” such as using a leaf blower or going to a concert, Schuchat said. “People may not realize that these kinds of exposures can cause permanent damage.”

Overall, as age increased, so did the incidence rate of noise-induced hearing loss from 19% among participants aged 20 to 29 years to 27% among participants aged 50 to 59 years, indicating that noise related hearing damage occurs at any age.

“This is especially concerning, because as people are exposed to more loud sounds over time, their hearing worsens and that speeds the concerns of other factors, such as aging,” Schuchat said. “In fact, noise exposure is the second most common cause of hearing loss next to aging. The louder the noise and the longer you are exposed to it the more likely it will damage your hearing.”

The report also indicated that men and individuals aged older than 40 years were more likely to be affected by hearing loss.

These findings indicate that hearing damage from noise exposure often goes undiagnosed, so patients are unaware of how it is being caused or that treatment is necessary. The researchers found that less than half of adults who reported trouble hearing visited a health care professional for their hearing in the last 5 years. In addition, they noted that hearing loss that is left untreated has been linked to anxiety, depression, loneliness and stress; furthermore, chronic noise exposure has been linked to the worsening of heart disease, increased BP and other adverse health effects.

Schuchat stated that it is relatively simple and inexpensive to prevent hearing loss from noise exposure and that primary care providers are vital in identifying early hearing loss and helping slow the progression of hearing loss from noise exposure. The investigators encourage primary care providers to ask patients about their exposure to loud noise and trouble hearing and explain how exposure to loud noises can permanently damage hearing during routine health care visits. They suggest that when patients show or report hearing issues, primary care providers conduct hearing tests or refer them to a hearing specialist.

According to the CDC, primary care providers can advise their patients to protect their hearing by:

  • avoiding noisy places when possible;
  • using earplugs, protective earmuffs or noise cancelling headphone when exposed to loud noises;
  • keeping the volume low when watching television or listening to music; and
  • undergoing a hearing checkup.

“Noise-induced hearing loss is a significant, often unrecognized health problem among U.S. adults,” Carroll and colleagues concluded in their report. “Discussions between patients and personal health care providers about hearing loss symptoms, tests, and ways to protect hearing might help with early diagnosis of hearing loss and provide opportunities to prevent harmful noise exposures.” – by Alaina Tedesco


Carroll YI, et al. MMWR. 2017;doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6605e3.




Disclosure: The report was conducted by the CDC with support from the National Institute on Deafness and other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health.