Over 16,400 Hispanics have been recruited, examined, and continue to be followed by the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL), launched in 2006 by the National Institutes of Health. An analysis of data pulled from HCHS/SOL finds hearing loss is a common problem for older Hispanics, with different percentages of people affected in each of the various Latin communities. Apparently, for instance, Mexican-Americans hear better than Puerto Ricans. Overall, this general hearing exam will help health officials create new prevention strategies.

Though the HCHS/SOL was designed to understand cardiovascular disease prevalence and risk factors, the study collects general health data from participants representing a range of backgrounds, including Central American, Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, and South American. Researchers at universities in California, Illinois, New York, and Florida are conducting this study.

Come Again?

The current research focused exclusively on hearing issues. Specifically, the researchers looked at information derived from HCHS/SOL tests where participants listened to tones at different pitches. After examining participants’ scores, the researchers averaged thresholds for each ear. If a participant’s average hearing threshold was louder than 25 decibels (about as loud as the sound of rustling leaves), that person was considered to have hearing loss.

Overall, 15.1 percent of the Hispanic/Latino participants demonstrated hearing loss in one ear, while roughly half of these, or 8.2 percent, had loss in both ears. By comparison, roughly 15 percent of American adults over 18 years old report hearing difficulties.

Looking more closely at the different subsets, the researchers noted prevalence of hearing loss was highest among Puerto Ricans — more than 21 percent demonstrated hearing loss in one ear and more than 12 percent had loss in both ears.

Positive Results

Mexican-Americans, on the other hand, registered the lowest rates of hearing loss. About 11 percent demonstrated some impairment in one ear and six percent in both. Thus, they not only outperformed others within the Latin community but the general population as well.

Sifting through the data, the researchers spotted a few trends. Naturally, older people had more hearing loss than younger people, and those exposed to loud noises were roughly 30 percent more likely to have hearing problems than others. The researchers found men to be 66 percent more likely than women to be hard of hearing.

People earning more than $75,000 were 42 percent less likely to be affected by hearing issues compared to those earning under $10,000. Those with a high school education also were 30 percent less likely to have problems compared to those lacking the same level of schooling. Finally, people with diabetes and pre-diabetes showed increased odds of poor hearing: 57 and 37 percent, respectively.

“Hearing impairment is a common problem for older Hispanics/Latinos... and is associated with socioeconomic factors, noise exposure, and abnormal glucose metabolism,” concluded the authors.

“Hearing loss can affect a person’s overall quality of life, and has been linked to depression and dementia in older adults,” Dr. James F. Battey, Jr., director of the NIH's National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, stated in a press release. Prevention does a world of good for older adults of any and all ethnic backgrounds.

Source: Cruickshanks KJ, Dhar S, Dinces E, et al. Hearing Impairment Prevalence and Associated Risk Factors in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos. JAMA Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. 2015.