Few With Hearing Problems Actually Use Hearing Aids, British Study Shows

03/24/2014 10:28 am ET | Updated Mar 24, 2014
Blend Images - Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images

By Nancy Maleki

If you find yourself frequently asking others to repeat themselves, you may be among the many people with hearing issues. Researchers have found that while many adults have hearing problems, few do anything about it.

Only one of five people with significant hearing loss used hearing aids, British researchers have found. Cost was not the issue, these researchers found, since hearing aids are free in Britain.

Those most likely to have hearing loss were older people, those with a history of working where they were exposed to noise, ethnic minorities and people from a lower socioeconomic background.

The researchers were led by Piers Dawes, DPhil, of the University of Manchester. This study included 164,770 people aged 40 to 69 years recruited from 2006 to 2010 from the UK Biobank resource. While 10.7 percent of them had significant hearing problems when listening to speech in the presence of background noise, only 2.1 percent of them wore hearing aids.

Each person had a Digit Triple Test, which is a hearing test that can be done by phone or internet. The testing of each ear took about four minutes and the person listened to sets of three monosyllabic digits read to them over background noise and gave a touchscreen response as to what they had heard. Hearing disability was based on the best-ear response.

Participants were also asked to self-report on hearing aid use, noise exposure, tinnitus (ringing of the ears) and various questions about themselves.

The study authors found that about one out of 10 people had substantial hearing problems, but just over 2 percent used a hearing aid.

The use of hearing aids has not changed much since the 1980s, the authors noted. They theorized that people did not use the aids because they did not know what they could use to improve their hearing, they found hearing aids uncomfortable or of little help, or they didn’t realize the degree of their hearing issues.

Furthermore, since people with hearing issues have to be referred to an audiologist by their family doctor and then go to a hospital to see the specialist, it may make hearing loss seem like more of an illness which people do not want to acknowledge, the authors suggested.

Professor Kevin Munro, Ewing Professor of Audiology at The University of Manchester who also worked on the study, said in a press release that “there still seems to be a stigma attached to wearing a hearing aid, where as there is little stigma now associated with vision loss and wearing spectacles.”

This study also found that 16.9 percent of people reported having tinnitus.

The researchers did not know why ethnic minorities or people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds might have more hearing loss than others.

This study appeared in Ear and Hearing.

No conflicts of interest were reported.

CONVERSATIONS