Kids Nowadays Hear Better Than We Did: Declining Prevalence of Hearing Loss in US Youth, 1966–2010

Howard J. Hoffman, Robert A. Dobie, Katalin G. Losonczy, Christa L. Themann, Gregory A. Flamme

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Objectives/Hypothesis: To investigate factors associated with hearing impairment (HI) in adolescent youths during the period 1966–2010. Study Design: Cross-sectional analyses of US sociodemographic, health, and audiometric data spanning 5 decades. Methods: Subjects were youths aged 12 to 17 years who participated in the National Health Examination Survey (NHES Cycle 3, 1966–1970; n = 6,768) and youths aged 12 to 19 years in the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III, 1988–1994; n = 3,057) and NHANES (2005–2010; n = 4,374). HI prevalence was defined by pure-tone average (PTA) ≥ 20 dB HL for speech frequencies (0.5, 1, 2, and 4 kHz) and high frequencies (3, 4, and 6 kHz). Multivariable logistic models were used to estimate the odds ratio (OR) and 95% confidence interval (CI). Results: Overall speech-frequency HI prevalence was 10.6% (95% CI: 9.7%-11.6%) in NHES, 3.9% (95% CI: 2.8%-5.5%) in NHANES III, and 4.5% (95% CI: 3.7%–5.4%) in NHANES 2005 to 2010. The corresponding high-frequency HI prevalences were 32.8% (95% CI: 30.8%-34.9%), 7.3% (95% CI: 5.9%-9.0%), and 7.9% (95% CI: 6.8%-9.2%). After adjusting for sociodemographic factors, overall high-frequency HI was increased twofold for males and cigarette smoking. Other significant risk factors in NHANES 2005 to 2010 included very low birth weight, history of ear infections/otitis media, ear tubes, fair/poor general health, and firearms use. Conclusions: HI declined considerably between 1966 to 1970 and 1988 to 1994, with no additional decline between 1988 to 1994 and 2005 to 2010. Otitis media history was a significant HI risk factor each period, whereas very low birth weight emerged as an important risk factor after survival chances improved. Reductions in smoking, job-related noise, and firearms use may partially explain the reduction in high-frequency HI. Loud music exposure may have increased, but does not account for HI differences. Level of Evidence: NA. Laryngoscope, 129:1922–1939, 2019.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1922-1939
Number of pages18
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2019


  • Hearing impairment
  • cigarette smoking
  • ear infections
  • ear tubes
  • loud music
  • low birth weight
  • noise exposure
  • pediatric population

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Otorhinolaryngology


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