The Prevalence and Incidence of Hearing Loss in Adults

Communication skills are central to a successful life for all Americans. Communication disorders greatly affect education, employment, and the well-being of many Americans. However, each day is a challenge for the 1 in 6 Americans who has a communication disability and for their families 1.

The number of Americans with a hearing loss has evidentially doubled during the past 30 years. Data gleaned from Federal surveys illustrate the following trend of prevalence for individuals aged three years or older: 13.2 million (1971), 14.2 million (1977), 20.3 million (1991), and 24.2 million (1993) 2, 3. An independent researcher estimates that 28.6 million Americans had an auditory disorder in 2000 4. This estimate is reasonably well within projections from the 1971-1993 trend line that evolved from Federal surveys 5.

Sudden sensorineural hearing loss (SSHL), also known as sudden deafness, is a rapid loss of hearing that can occur over a few hours, or over a period of three days 6, 7. The cause of SSHL can be found in only 10%–15% of patients 6, 8. The estimated yearly incidence of SSHL is 5 to 20 cases per 100,000 persons 9.

Noise exposure has long been known to be a risk factor for hearing loss 10. More than 30 million Americans are exposed to hazardous sound levels on a regular basis 11.


  1. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2003, June 25). Strategic plan: Plain language version FY 2003–2005.
  2. Ries, P. W. (1994). Prevalence and characteristics of persons with hearing trouble: United States, 199091. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(188).
  3. Benson, V., & Marano, M. A. (1995). Current estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, 1993. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(190).
  4. Kochkin, S. (2001, December). MarkeTrak VI: The VA and direct mail sales spark growth in hearing aid market. The Hearing Review, 8(12): 1624, 6365.
  5. Mohr, P. E., Feldman, J. J., Dunbar, J. L., et. al. (2000). The societal costs of severe to profound hearing loss in the United States. International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care, 16(4): 11201135.
  6. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2003, March). Sudden deafness (NIH Pub. No. 00-4757). Bethesda, MD: Author.
  7. Berrocal, J. R. G., & Ramirez-Camacho, R. (2002). Sudden sensorineural hearing loss: Supporting the immunologic theory. Annals of Otology, Rhinology, and Laryngology, 111, 989995.
  8. Mattox, D. E., & Lyles, C. A. (1989). Idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss. American Journal of Otology, 10, 242247.
  9. Byl, F. M. Jr. (1984). Sudden hearing loss: eight years' experience and suggested prognostic table. Laryngoscope, 94, 647661.
  10. Dalton, D. S., Cruickshanks, K. J., Wiley, T. L., et. al. (2001). Association of leisure-time noise exposure and hearing loss. Audiology, 40, 1-9.
  11. National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. (2002, September). Noise-induced Hearing Loss (NIH Pub. No. 97-4233). Bethesda, MD: Author.

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