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J Med Assoc Thai. 2002 May;85(5):521-31.

Ear diseases and hearing in the Thai elderly population. Part I. A comparative study of the accuracy of diagnosis and treatment by general practitioners vs ENT specialists.

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  • 1Department of Otolaryngology, Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.


The prevalence of ear disease and hearing disability in elderly Thais in 14 urban communities around Siriraj Hospital was studied. The accuracy of diagnosis and treatment of common ear diseases and of screening for hearing loss in the elderly between general practitioners (GP) and Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) specialists was also compared. Elderly people aged 60 years or more who had registered with the health care program had their ear and hearing check-up performed by GPs and ENT specialists from mobile team. Altogether, 980 subjects were included, 332 were males, 648 were females, (male:female ratio 1:2). Their ages ranged from 60-96 years with an average age of 68.5 years. The prevalence of ear disease diagnosed by ENT specialists was 16.3 per cent (95% CI = 14.0-18.6), 12.5 per cent was external ear disease and 2.7 per cent middle ear disease. The most common ear problem was impacted ear wax (8%), the second most common problem was otitis externa (4.3%). Compared with an ENT specialist, the ability of a GP to diagnose ear diseases had a sensitivity of 46.5 per cent and a specificity of 80.3 per cent, the positive predictive value of their diagnoses was 31.5 per cent. The efficacy of the treatment of ear diseases in 51 elderly people by GPs and in 63 elderly people by ENT specialists was statistically significantly different (p = 0.02). Hearing screening by the GP using whisper or the watch test performed in 650 elderly people revealed abnormal findings (could not hear) in 70 cases or 10.8 per cent. Hearing screening using pure tone audiometry in 980 elderly people showed abnormal hearing level in 508 cases (52.4%). 9.5 per cent of them had a bilateral moderate to severe degree of hearing impairment. There was no difference in the level of hearing impairment between males and females or between right and left ears. The prevalence of hearing loss increases with increasing age. Tympanometry performed by an acoustic impedance machine in 980 of the elderly showed a conductive hearing loss in 85 cases (9.1%). The authors conclude that the prevalence of ear disease in elderly people living in the urban community around Siriraj Hospital is quite high. Although the ear diseases commonly encountered were not serious, if left untreated they may lead to complication and decreased hearing. Therefore, the proficiency of GPs in the management of common ear diseases in every community should be regularly maintained. Hearing impairment is very prevalent and increases with age. Thus, screening for hearing loss using an audiometer and/or acoustic impedance is recommended for all senior citizens in their community at least once a year. Early detection of elderly persons who could benefit from a properly fitted hearing aid will certainly improve the quality of life and may prevent psychiatric and functional impairment of the Thai elderly population.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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