Adults with hearing loss are more likely to be unemployed and, on average, earn significantly lower wages, reported a study published in Annals of Otology, Rhinology & Laryngology (2012;121:771).
The adjusted odds ratio for unemployment or partial employment in people with hearing loss versus those without was 2.2. Having any form of wage income also was less common in the former group, with an adjusted odds ratio of 2.5. For those who did collect an income, individuals with hearing loss made about 25 percent less; their mean wage was $23,481, compared with $31,272 for those without that diagnosis.
“Those are pretty striking associations, but it obviously needs a lot more study before we can draw some hard conclusions about what it all means and, more importantly, what needs to be done about it,” said David Jung, MD, PhD, a fellow in otology and neurotology at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, who coauthored the study with Neil Bhattacharyya, MD, of the division of otolaryngology at Brigham and Women's Hospital (See FastLinks).
The 2006 and 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) was used to identify patients with a coded diagnosis of hearing loss. The MEPS captures a representative sample of the US civilian noninstitutionalized population, collecting data on about 15,000 families and 40,000 individuals over a two-year cycle (See FastLinks).
“There has been some data published about this before, but a lot of those studies really relied a lot more on self-reported surveys by patients,” Dr. Jung said in a phone interview. “I think one of the big advantages of our study is that we looked at the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey in the United States.
“The great thing about that data is that they do collect survey interview information, but they also supplement that information directly from those patients' medical providers, so it's a nice way of correlating between someone's recollection and an actual record from their primary care doctor.”
An estimated 933,921 US adults were identified as having hearing loss, with an average age of 51.0. Of these individuals, 54.7 percent were male.
“We identified patients via ICD code, and that was extremely efficient, but there are several big issues with that,” Dr. Jung said.
“Number one, we just know that these patients have 'hearing loss,' so we don't know if it is one-sided hearing loss, hearing loss in both sides, or how severe the hearing loss is. We also don't know, for example, which patients were actually being treated for their hearing loss.
“In some ways, if you think about all the caveats, it is rather striking, actually, that we did find as strong an association as we did, so that suggests to us that most of the patients who carried a diagnosis of hearing loss did actually have levels of loss that were clinically significant or were significantly affecting their ability to work, but we can't prove that with the data that we have, so basically what needs to be done is getting a lot more details about these patients. That will help inform what we do moving forward.”
* Read more about Dr. Jung's research at http://bit.ly/DavidJung.
* Learn about the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey at http://bit.ly/MEPS-AHRQ.
* Comments about this article? Write to HJ at HJ@wolterskluwer.com.
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