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Hearing in Middle Age: A Population Snapshot of 40- to 69-Year Olds in the United Kingdom

Dawes, Piers1; Fortnum, Heather2; Moore, David R.2,3; Emsley, Richard4; Norman, Paul5; Cruickshanks, Karen6; Davis, Adrian7; Edmondson-Jones, Mark2,8; McCormack, Abby2; Lutman, Mark9; Munro, Kevin1,10

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000010
e-Research Articles

Objectives: To report population-based prevalence of hearing impairment based on speech recognition in noise testing in a large and inclusive sample of U.K. adults aged 40 to 69 years. The present study is the first to report such data. Prevalence of tinnitus and use of hearing aids is also reported.

Design: The research was conducted using the UK Biobank resource. The better-ear unaided speech reception threshold was measured adaptively using the Digit Triplet Test (n = 164,770). Self-report data on tinnitus, hearing aid use, noise exposure, as well as demographic variables were collected.

Results: Overall, 10.7% of adults (95% confidence interval [CI] 10.5–10.9%) had significant hearing impairment. Prevalence of tinnitus was 16.9% (95%CI 16.6–17.1%) and hearing aid use was 2.0% (95%CI 1.9–2.1%). Odds of hearing impairment increased with age, with a history of work- and music-related noise exposure, for lower socioeconomic background and for ethnic minority backgrounds. Males were at no higher risk of hearing impairment than females.

Conclusions: Around 1 in 10 adults aged 40 to 69 years have substantial hearing impairment. The reasons for excess risk of hearing impairment particularly for those from low socioeconomic and ethnic minority backgrounds require identification, as this represents a serious health inequality. The underuse of hearing aids has altered little since the 1980s, and is a major cause for concern.

This study reports population-based prevalence of hearing impairment based on speech in noise recognition testing in a large and inclusive sample of U.K. adults aged 40 to 69 years. Prevalence of tinnitus and use of hearing aids are also reported. Odds of hearing impairment increased with age, history of work- and music-related noise exposure, lower socioeconomic status, and ethnic minority background. The reasons for excess risk of hearing impairment particularly for those from low socioeconomic and ethnic minority backgrounds require identification. The underuse of hearing aids has altered little since the 1980s and is a cause for concern.

1School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom; 2NIHR Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom; 3Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; 4Centre for Biostatistics, Institute of Population Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom; 5School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom; 6Population Health Sciences and Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA; 7Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, London, United Kingdom; 8School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom; 9The Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom; and 10Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, Manchester, United Kingdom.

Supplemental digital content is available for this article. Direct URL citations appear in the printed text and are provided in the HTML and text of this article on the journal’s Web site (www.ear-hearing.com).

DRM was supported by the Intramural Programme of the Medical Research Council [Grant U135097130]. KJC was supported by R37AG11099, R01AG021917, and an unrestricted grant from Research to Prevent Blindness.

The authors declare no other conflict of interest.

Address for correspondence: Piers Dawes, HCD Office, Ellen Wilkinson Building, School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Oxford Road, Manchester, M13 9PL, United Kingdom. E-mail: piers.dawes@manchester.ac.uk

© 2014 by Lippincott Williams & Wilkins