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.
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.
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.
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.