Prevalence, Characteristics, and Treatment Patterns of Hearing Difficulty in the United States

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Hearing loss is one of the most prevalent chronic conditions in the United States and has been associated with negative physical, social, cognitive, economic, and emotional consequences. Despite the high prevalence of hearing loss, substantial gaps in the utilization of amplification options, including hearing aids and cochlear implants (CI), have been identified.


To investigate the contemporary prevalence, characteristics, and patterns of specialty referral, evaluation, and treatment of hearing difficulty among adults in the United States.

Design, Setting, and Participants

A cross-sectional analysis of responses from a nationwide clustered representative sample of adults who participated in the 2014 National Health Interview Survey and responded to the hearing module questions was carried out.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Data regarding demographics as well as self-reported hearing status, functional hearing, laterality, onset, and primary cause of the hearing loss were collected. In addition, specific data regarding hearing-related clinician visits, hearing tests, referrals to hearing specialist, and utilization of hearing aids and CIs were analyzed.


Among 239.6 million adults, 40.3 million (16.8%) indicated their hearing was less than “excellent/good,” ranging from “a little trouble hearing” to “deaf.” The mean (SD) age of participants was 47 (0.2) years with 48.2% being men and 51.8% women. Approximately 48.8 million (20.6%) had visited a physician for hearing problems in the preceding 5 years. Of these, 32.6% were referred to an otolaryngologist and 27.3% were referred to an audiologist. Functional hearing was reported as the ability to hear “whispering” or “normal voice” (225.4 million; 95.5%), to “only hear shouting” (8.0 million; 3.4%), and “not appreciating shouting” (2.8 million; 1.1%). Among the last group, 5.3% were recommended to have a CI, of which 22.1% had received one. Of the adults who indicated their hearing from “a little trouble hearing” to being “deaf,” 12.9 million (32.2%) had never seen a clinician for hearing problems and 11.1 million (28.0%) had never had their hearing tested.

Conclusions and Relevance

There are considerable gaps between self-reported hearing loss and patients receiving medical evaluation and recommended treatments for hearing loss. Improved awareness regarding referrals to otolaryngologists and audiologists as well as auditory rehabilitative options among clinicians may improve hearing loss care.

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