To study the extent to which otitis media (OM) in childhood is associated with adult hearing thresholds. Furthermore, to study whether the effects of OM on adult hearing thresholds are moderated by age or noise exposure.
Population-based cohort study of 32,786 participants who had their hearing tested by pure-tone audiometry in primary school and again at ages ranging from 20 to 56 years. Three thousand sixty-six children were diagnosed with hearing loss; the remaining sample had normal childhood hearing.
Compared with participants with normal childhood hearing, those diagnosed with childhood hearing loss caused by otitis media with effusion (n = 1255), chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM; n = 108), or hearing loss after recurrent acute otitis media (rAOM; n = 613) had significantly increased adult hearing thresholds in the whole frequency range (2 dB/17–20 dB/7–10 dB, respectively). The effects were adjusted for age, sex, and noise exposure. Children diagnosed with hearing loss after rAOM had somewhat improved hearing thresholds as adults. The effects of CSOM and hearing loss after rAOM on adult hearing thresholds were larger in participants tested in middle adulthood (ages 40 to 56 years) than in those tested in young adulthood (ages 20 to 40 years). Eardrum pathology added a marginally increased risk of adult hearing loss (1–3 dB) in children with otitis media with effusion or hearing loss after rAOM. The study could not reveal significant differences in the effect of self-reported noise exposure on adult hearing thresholds between the groups with OM and the group with normal childhood hearing.
This cohort study indicates that CSOM and rAOM in childhood are associated with adult hearing loss, underlining the importance of optimal treatment in these conditions. It appears that ears with a subsequent hearing loss after OM in childhood age at a faster rate than those without; however this should be confirmed by studies with several follow-up tests through adulthood.