Hearing loss is more prevalent among U.S. adults than has been previously reported. It’s even affecting young adults.

“Our estimate of 29 million Americans was among subjects aged 20-69 years and exceeds the often-cited estimate of 28 million Americans of all ages who were found (in 1989) to have hearing loss based on self-report,” write Yuri Agrawal, MD, et al from the Johns Hopkins Hospital Center in Baltimore (Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:1522-1530).

Data were evaluated from 5,742 adults who participated in the audiometric component of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004. Calculations resulted in an estimate of speech-frequency hearing loss in 16.1% of adults in the United States (29 million people).

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Although hearing loss is common in persons over age 70, 8.5% of the youngest age group studied (20-29 years) exhibited the problem, and the researchers note that the affliction seems to be on the rise among individuals of this age. They also learned that hearing loss seems to develop first at high frequencies, and high-frequency loss reduces speech recognition. (In this analysis, 12% of Americans were deemed to have unilateral high-frequency hearing loss and 19% had bilateral loss.)

People appeared less likely to be aware of or report high-frequency hearing loss compared with bilateral hearing loss, making a strong case for early audiometric screening in young adults.