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About two-thirds of older adults may have hearing loss, but blacks could be at lower risk

March 01, 2011|By Jeannine Stein, Los Angeles Times

If you're older, chances are you're at a higher risk for hearing loss -- in a recent study about 63% of adults over 70 had it. But the same study found that being black may have a protective effect. While about 64% of whites in the study showed some hearing loss, only 43% of blacks did.

The study, published online recently in the Journal of Gerontology: Medical Sciences, analyzed data from a two-year cycle of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an ongoing national health research program. Among 717 participants who had hearing tests, about two-thirds had mild to severe hearing loss. Increasing age and being male were both linked with an increased risk for hearing loss.

But black study participants only had about a 43% prevalence of some hearing loss. According to the study, while some believe that melanin (a skin pigment) in the stria vascularis, an area in the ear that contains melanin, may be protective, some animal studies have not always shown that to be true.

Researchers found that about 3% of those with mild hearing loss, 40% of those with moderate loss and about 77% of those with severe loss used hearing aids. They noted that cost may not be a factor, since in the U.K., hearing aids are covered by the National Health service and their rate of hearing aid use is about the same.

"These observations are likely indicative of general perceptions that undervalue the potential impact of hearing loss on health and functioning in aging," the authors wrote.

No substantial link was seen between cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure or diabetes with loss of hearing.

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