What Is the Prevalence of Hearing Loss?

Gina M. Crovato, AuD

Audiologist in Washington DC

07 December 2020

People who have a hearing loss are often embarrassed by it, thinking that they are alone in their communication difficulties, but statistics show that hearing loss is far from an uncommon problem. In fact, hearing loss is the third most common physical health problem in the United States, behind such common ailments as heart disease and arthritis. According to the National Institute for Deafness and other Communication Disorders (NICDC), approximately 15% of adults (or 37.5 million people) over the age of 18 in the United States report some difficulty in hearing.¹

About two or three out of every 1,000 children are born with a detectable level of hearing loss as well. Overall, the greatest predictor of hearing loss of adults aged 20-69 is age, with adults aged 60-69 demonstrating the greatest degree of hearing loss, although hearing loss affects all age groups. Men in this 20-69 age group were found to be almost twice as likely as women to have hearing loss. Among that same age group, as far as race is concerned, non-Hispanic, white adults are more likely than any other ethnic or racial group to have hearing loss, and non-Hispanic, black or African American adults were found to have the lowest prevalence of hearing loss. Almost 25% of adults aged 65-74 were found to have “disabling hearing loss,” defined by the NICDC as hearing loss where hearing was 35 decibels or poorer, generally the level at which a person can benefit from hearing aids. Estimates show that rate rises to nearly 50% of adults aged 75 and older who were identified with disabling hearing loss.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that over 5% of the world’s population, or 360 million people (183 million males and 145 million females), have disabling hearing loss, and 32 million of them are children. Roughly one-third of the world’s population over the age of 65 is affected by disabling hearing loss. The greatest majority of people with disabling hearing loss are found in low- and middle-income countries; in fact, the prevalence of disabling hearing loss in both children and adults over the age of 65 is greatest in the areas of South Asia, Asia Pacific, and Sub-Saharan Africa.²

While the cause of many types of hearing loss may be unavoidable, the World Health Organization finds that in children under 15 years of age, 60% of childhood hearing loss could be prevented.³ This figure is higher in low- to middle-income countries at 75% than in high-income countries at 49%, and factor in infections such as mumps, measles, rubella, cytomegalovirus and chronic ear infections, complications during childbirth, use of medications that can be damaging to the auditory system by expecting mothers and infants, and other factors as reasons for this. WHO has also found that 1.1 billion young people from ages 12 to 35 years old are at risk of hearing loss due to noise exposure, most often from recreational activities.