June 29, 2015

Hearing Impairment in Hispanic/Latino Adults

At a Glance

  • Researchers found that nearly 1 in 7 Hispanic/Latino adults in the United States has hearing loss, a rate similar to the general population.
  • Potential risk factors associated with hearing loss included age, gender, less than high school education, lower household income, noise exposure, and diabetes. 
Man cupping his hand to his ear. Hearing impairment often goes undiagnosed and untreated for years. Sezer66/Thinkstock

Hearing impairment is one of the most common chronic conditions affecting adults. It often goes undiagnosed and untreated for years. Having trouble hearing can make it difficult to detect smoke alarms, phones, and doorbells. Hearing loss also can make it hard to have conversations with family and friends, leading to frustration and isolation.

About 15% of American adults report some hearing loss. To determine the prevalence of hearing impairment among U.S. Hispanic/Latino adults and identify associations with potential risk factors, a research team looked at data gathered as part of the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL).

HCHS/SOL is the largest U.S. study of Hispanic/Latino health. It’s being conducted in 4 cities: the Bronx, Chicago, Miami, and San Diego. Participants include more than 16,000 self-identified Hispanic/Latino adults, ages 18 to 74 at first visit. They represent a wide range of backgrounds, including Central American, Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and South American. The study has been supported in part by NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Researchers asked participants to listen to tones at different pitches and then averaged the hearing thresholds in each ear at 4 different pitches. A person was considered to have hearing loss if his or her average hearing threshold was louder than 25 decibels (about as loud as the sound of rustling leaves) in at least one ear. Participants’ body mass index, blood pressure, and blood glucose were determined. They completed surveys in English or Spanish regarding education, income, noise exposure, heart disease history, smoking, and other factors that might be associated with hearing impairment. Results appeared online on May 28, 2015, in JAMA Otolaryngology—Head & Neck Surgery.

The researchers found that 15% of the participants had hearing loss in one ear and that roughly half of these (8%) had hearing loss in both ears. Among different subgroups, Hispanics of Puerto Rican descent had the highest rate of hearing loss, while Mexican-Americans had the lowest.

The prevalence of hearing impairment was higher among participants who had diabetes or prediabetes, males, those 45 years and older, and those exposed to loud noise. Participants were less likely to have hearing loss if they had at least a high school diploma or GED and higher household income. These associations do not prove cause and effect, however. More research will be needed to determine the environmental, cultural, and genetic factors that might be involved.

“Hearing loss can affect a person’s overall quality of life and has been linked to depression and dementia in older adults,” says NIDCD Director Dr. James F. Battey, Jr. “This study paints a detailed picture of hearing loss among a large and diverse group of Hispanic/Latino participants, and could help inform the development of intervention strategies to meet the needs of this growing population in the United States.”

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Reference: Hearing Impairment Prevalence and Associated Risk Factors in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. Cruickshanks KJ, Dhar S, Dinces E, Fifer RC, Gonzalez F 2nd, Heiss G, Hoffman HJ, Lee DJ, Newhoff M, Tocci L, Torre P 3rd, Tweed TS. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2015 May 28. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2015.0889. [Epub ahead of print]. PMID: 26021283.

Funding: NIH’s National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) and National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).