As many as one in five Americans report hearing loss, a common condition which in many cases leads to depression.

In a groundbreaking new study, investigators from the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communications Disorders has found an elevated risk of depression among people who experience any loss of audiology, with deaf people at no higher risk — all else equal.

Men are more likely to experience hearing loss than women, though a higher percentage of elderly women develop tinnitus, at 14 percent to 12.3 percent. And for whatever reasons, tinnitus is more common among whites and Southerners, with rates nearly twice as high down South as in the Northeast.

In the study, scientist Li Chuang-Ming found that depression rates increased with hearing loss after analyzing data from a national survey of adults aged 18 to 70. The survey showed that 4.9 percent of Americans with excellent hearing experience depression — a baseline that rises with hearing loss. With “good hearing,” 7.1 percent of U.S. adults reported feeling depressed. But among those with greater hearing impairment, depression rose to 11.4 percent.

However, hearing loss bothered more women than men after the age of 70. Although men tended to accept hearing loss as septuagenarians, women reported greater depression rates after moderate hearing loss, measured as 35 to 50 decibels. With any level of hearing loss, women across the age spectrum experienced greater sadness and depression at 14.7 percent, comapred to nine percent of men with hearing loss.

Depression rates were also higher among those who wore a hearing aid, suggesting something inherently depressing about the device itself. Only one in five people who might benefit from a hearing aid choose to wear one. Ming and his colleagues say clinicians should improve depression screenings for people with hearing loss, paying particular attention to older women.

Interestingly, deaf people in the study appeared nearly immune from depression with a rate of only 0.06 percent reporting such feelings.

Source: Chuan-Ming, Li, Zhang, Xinzhi, Hoffman, Howard, Cotch, Mary Frances, Thermann, Christa L. Hearing Impairment Associated With Depression In US Adults, National Health And Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2010. JAMA Otalaryngology — Head And Neck Surgery. 2014.