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Ear Hear. 2014 May-Jun;35(3):e44-51. doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000010.

Hearing in middle age: a population snapshot of 40- to 69-year olds in the United Kingdom.

Author information

1School of Psychological Sciences, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom; 2NIHR Nottingham Hearing Biomedical Research Unit, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom; 3Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; 4Centre for Biostatistics, Institute of Population Health, University of Manchester, Manchester, United Kingdom; 5School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom; 6Population Health Sciences and Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, USA; 7Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, London, United Kingdom; 8School of Medicine, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom; 9The Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom; and 10Central Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Manchester Academic Health Science Centre, Manchester, United Kingdom.



To report population-based prevalence of hearing impairment based on speech recognition in noise testing in a large and inclusive sample of U.K. adults aged 40 to 69 years. The present study is the first to report such data. Prevalence of tinnitus and use of hearing aids is also reported.


The research was conducted using the UK Biobank resource. The better-ear unaided speech reception threshold was measured adaptively using the Digit Triplet Test (n = 164,770). Self-report data on tinnitus, hearing aid use, noise exposure, as well as demographic variables were collected.


Overall, 10.7% of adults (95% confidence interval [CI] 10.5-10.9%) had significant hearing impairment. Prevalence of tinnitus was 16.9% (95%CI 16.6-17.1%) and hearing aid use was 2.0% (95%CI 1.9-2.1%). Odds of hearing impairment increased with age, with a history of work- and music-related noise exposure, for lower socioeconomic background and for ethnic minority backgrounds. Males were at no higher risk of hearing impairment than females.


Around 1 in 10 adults aged 40 to 69 years have substantial hearing impairment. The reasons for excess risk of hearing impairment particularly for those from low socioeconomic and ethnic minority backgrounds require identification, as this represents a serious health inequality. The underuse of hearing aids has altered little since the 1980s, and is a major cause for concern.

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