How many people have hearing loss in the United States?

Author: Adele Goman, Ph.D., Graphics: Mengru Liao, MA

 

Knowing how many people have hearing loss today is important for informing policy decisions and planning services to address hearing needs. In an article published in the American Journal of Public Health, we estimated the percentage of, and number of, individuals with hearing loss in the United States.

 

To estimate how many people have hearing loss on a national scale we analyzed the results of a hearing test that was completed by almost ten thousand people in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2001 and 2010. In the hearing test, sounds at different pitches were presented at quieter and quieter volumes until the person taking the test could only just hear them. We used criteria from the World Health Organization to categorize individuals as having a hearing loss or not based on the quietest volume at which they heard the sounds, and calculated the percentage of individuals with a hearing loss. We applied the percentage of individuals with hearing loss to current population estimates from the US Census Bureau to estimate how many individuals in the United States have hearing loss.

 

We estimate that 14.3% of Americans aged 12 and over have a hearing loss in both ears. That corresponds to about 38.2 million people over the age of 12 in the United States today. We also explored how common hearing loss is at different ages and found that the percentage of people with hearing loss approximately doubles with every decade of life. As such, hearing loss is much more common among older adults and 91% of adults with hearing loss are aged 50 and older.

 

Percentage of individuals with hearing loss by age and severity

We also examined the percentage of people with hearing loss by severity and used criteria from the World Health Organization to categorize hearing loss as a mild loss, or as a moderate or greater loss. Someone with a mild hearing loss may find it difficult to hear softly spoken conversations, fast-paced speech, or speech in the presence of background noise. Someone with moderate or greater hearing loss will also have trouble in these situations and may additionally find it challenging to hear normal conversations in quiet environments even when the talker is close to them.

 

We estimate that 25.4 million people over the age of 12 in the United States have a mild hearing loss, and 12.8 million have a moderate or greater hearing loss. However, the severity of hearing loss differs by age.  Among adults younger than 80 years old, mild hearing loss is more common than moderate or greater hearing loss. Whereas, among adults older than 80 years old, moderate or greater hearing loss is more common than mild hearing loss.

 

Our results highlighted differences in the percentage of individuals with hearing loss across sex and racial/ethnic groups. The percentage of Hispanics and Non-Hispanic Whites with hearing loss was similar across most ages, but hearing loss is less common among individuals who identified themselves as Non-Hispanic Black. Hearing loss is more common in males than females. Indeed, in one’s 50s, hearing loss is three times more common in males than females.  Thereafter, the size of the difference between males and females reduces with age.

Percentage of individuals with hearing loss by age and sex

 

In summary, we estimate that 38.2 million people over the age of 12 in the United States have hearing loss, but there are differences in how common hearing loss is across groups of people. At the Cochlear Center for Hearing and Public Health, core faculty and trainees are continuing to estimate the percentage and number of people with different types of hearing loss and exploring variations in hearing loss across groups of individuals. This fundamental research is important as these estimates can help inform public health approaches to address hearing loss.