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Hearing Loss Hits Many Americans, With Rural Areas and Men Most Affected
  • Posted January 25, 2024

Hearing Loss Hits Many Americans, With Rural Areas and Men Most Affected

Folks think of big city life as an ear-blasting festival of noise -- taxi horns honking, jackhammers pounding, police sirens wailing and jet planes roaring overhead.

But rural residents actually have a higher rate of hearing loss in both ears than city dwellers do, a new study finds.

Men are also more likely than women to suffer hearing loss, with the highest rates seen among white people and seniors 65 and older.

Known as the Sound Check study, the research represents the first attempt to map the prevalence of hearing loss across the United States, the investigators said.

What did they discover? Largely rural states like West Virginia, Alaska, Wyoming, Oklahoma and Arizona had the highest rates of hearing loss. Meanwhile, the lowest rates of hearing loss were found in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Connecticut and the District of Columbia.

"The number one risk factor for hearing loss is aging, but the map tells us that where you live impacts your hearing as well,"said principal investigator David Rein, a senior fellow at the University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center.

"Surprisingly, people living in urban areas with large populations and traffic noise have less hearing loss prevalence than people in rural areas,"Rein added in a university news release.

The study used national data on Americans' hearing to estimate hearing loss down to the state and even the county level, researchers said.

It found that nearly 38 million Americans -- more than one in nine -- suffer from some form of bilateral hearing loss, or hearing loss in both ears.

Hearing loss starts to increase significantly beginning at age 35, results show.

The rate of hearing loss increases to just under one in seven for people 35 and older, and one in about one and a half for people 75 and older.

The new study was published Jan. 24 in The Lancet Regional Health -- Americas journal.

People living in rural areas could be at higher risk for hearing loss due to noise exposure from outdoor work using heavy machinery, the researchers speculated.

Rural folks also indulge in recreational activities that can harm hearing, including riding on loud all-terrain vehicles and shooting off firearms.

A hunter without ear protection can damage their hearing after firing off just a few rounds from a rifle or shotgun, study co-author Nicholas Reed, an audiologist and assistant professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, told the Associated Press.

By the same token, someone riding a noisy subway could go six to eight hours before being at risk of hearing loss, Reed said.

Unfortunately, people living in rural areas are also the least likely to have easy access to hearing specialists, researchers said.

In older adults, hearing loss has been associated with higher risk of dementia, depression, falls, heart attack and premature death, researchers said.

Hearing loss is permanent and cannot be reversed, but noise-related hearing loss can be prevented by avoiding loud noises or wearing hearing protection, researchers said.

"We need to recognize the impact that hearing loss has on our emotional, social and cognitive health,"said Donna Smiley, chief staff officer for audiology at the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.

"What the public needs to know is that hearing is as important to your health as clear vision,"Smiley added. "Getting glasses is not a big deal, but neither is getting hearing aids or wearing hearing protection when it's needed."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about hearing loss. To learn about hearing loss in your area, visit the Sound Check study map.

SOURCE: University of Chicago, news release, Jan. 24, 2024

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