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Who’s at Risk for Hearing Loss?

Study Shows Factors Include Heredity and Noisy Workplaces
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Feb. 23, 2011 -- Certain heart disease risk factors, heredity, and having a noisy job are associated with hearing loss in middle-aged adults, a new study shows.

Researchers analyzed information on 3,285 people ranging in age from 21 to 84, evaluating hearing loss as a pure-tone average greater than 25 decibels in either ear.

Also measured was participant word recognition at different sound levels with male and female voices. Those in the study provided details of their medical history, behaviors, and environmental factors.

Hearing Loss: Men vs. Women

“Hearing impairment was more likely in men, in participants with lower education levels, and in those working in noisy occupations or with a history of ear surgery,” the researchers report. “Other factors suggest there may be cardiovascular correlates associated with hearing impairment as based on the word recognition scores, including statin use.”

An increased thickness of artery walls, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease, may also be associated with hearing loss. And, the researchers say, people whose parents had hearing difficulties may be at increased risk for hearing impairment, suggesting it could be inheritable.

In the study group, the prevalence of hearing impairment was 14.1%, and the average word recognition in quietness was 89.6%, but only 63.5% when two voices were speaking.

“Cardiovascular disease risk factors may be important correlates of age-related auditory dysfunction,” the researchers write. “Hearing impairment is a common condition in middle-aged adults.”

Hearing Loss in America

About 29 million Americans have a hearing impairment, the researchers report.

“Population-based epidemiological prevalence estimates range from 20.6% in adults aged 48 to 59 years to 90% in adults older than 80 years,” write study researcher Scott D. Nash, MS, of the University of Wisconsin, and colleagues. “The severity of this condition has been shown to be associated with a poorer quality of life, communication difficulties, impaired activities of daily living, dementia, and cognitive dysfunction.”

The researchers also write that hearing impairment may be somewhat preventable if found early enough.

The study, published online, will appear in the May print issue of the Archives of Otolaryngology -- Head & Neck Surgery.

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