Overall, about 17% of adults reported that their hearing was less
than excellent or good in a national survey, the study found. But
less than 28% of them got their hearing tested.
“There are a number of remedies for patients with hearing loss which
can improve their quality of life,” said senior study author Dr.
Neil Bhattacharyya of Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s
Hospital in Boston.
“But it is important that patients be identified and diagnosed in
order to be treated,” Bhattacharyya said by email. “Undiagnosed or
untreated hearing loss can cause physical and social frustration and
can also lead to safety concerns like not being able to hear a car
horn or other warning sounds.”
Bhattacharyya and colleagues examined 2014 data from a national
survey of 36,690 adults, representing an estimated 239.6 million
people. Survey participants were 47 years old on average.
Approximately 83% of participants rated their hearing as “excellent”
Men were more likely to report hearing difficulties than women,
researchers report online November 22 in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head &
About 11% of people in the survey reported a “little trouble”
hearing, while another 4% said they had “moderate trouble” and about
2% had “a lot of trouble.” Less than 1% of the survey participants
Hearing background noise was a challenge at least half of the time
for 21% of survey participants, the study also found.
Roughly 21% of people surveyed had seen a physician for hearing
problems at least once in the past five years.
Lack of access and cost concerns may stop at least some people from
getting help, said Samuel Atcherson, an audiology researcher at the
University of Arkansas at Little Rock who wasn’t involved in the
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“All across the board, there is lack of access (sometimes an
otolaryngologist or audiologist (is) several hours away from their
place of residence), lack of knowledge/awareness, and certainly
there are financial constraints as well,” Atcherson said by email.
“In general, hearing aids are not covered by third-party insurances,
but implantable devices (such as cochlear implants) are often fully
or partially covered by third-party insurances.”
Another challenge is that many primary care physicians may not be
adequately screening patients or referring them to hearing
specialists, said Colleen Le Prell, a researcher at the University
of Texas at Dallas who wasn’t involved in the study.
“Patients may need to be prepared to (ask) for referrals for
audiological screening,” Le Prell said by email. “If an individual
is having trouble hearing speech or other important sounds, or is
having trouble understanding speech in quiet or in noise,
audiological testing - including word recognition and
speech-in-noise assessment - should be sought.”
Sometimes patients don’t want to seek help because they don’t think
hearing aids will work even if they can manage to pay for them, said
Dr. Jennifer Derebery of the House Ear Clinic and Institute and the
University of California Los Angeles David Geffen School of
“Patients associate hearing aids with dads or granddads, or say that
they know a neighbor or relative who said hearing aids didn’t help,
so they refuse to get them,” Derebery, who wasn’t involved in the
study, said by email. “They don’t know there are many sophisticated
functions contemporary hearing aids can do, such as linking to blue
JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 2017.
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