Despite the high prevalence of hearing loss in the United States, researchers of a new study published in JAMA Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery found substantial gaps in specialist referral patterns and the use of amplification options, including hearing aids and cochlear implants (CIs).
The researchers, led by Hossein Mahboubi, MD, MPH, a resident in the otolaryngology–head and neck surgery program at the University of California, Irvine, conducted 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. They collected data regarding self-reported hearing status, functional hearing, laterality, onset, and primary cause of the hearing loss. The investigators also analyzed specific data regarding hearing-related clinician visits, hearing tests, referrals to hearing specialists, and the use of hearing aids and CIs.
They found that, among 239.6 million adults, 40.3 million (16.8%) said their hearing was less than “excellent/good,” and ranged from “a little trouble hearing” to “deaf.” Approximately 48.8 million (20.6%) had visited a physician for hearing problems in the preceding five 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.
The study authors recommended that improved awareness regarding referrals to otolaryngologists and audiologists, as well as auditory rehabilitative options among clinicians, may improve care for patients with hearing loss.