Health

Millions of Americans are not getting treatment for hearing loss

Dr. Chris Taylor, left, examines the ear of Medi-Cal patient Richardo Alvarez, 5, at the Las Palmas Health Clinic in Sacramento in 2005.
Dr. Chris Taylor, left, examines the ear of Medi-Cal patient Richardo Alvarez, 5, at the Las Palmas Health Clinic in Sacramento in 2005.
RICH PEDRONCELLI/AP

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Millions of Americans with hearing problems are not receiving the treatment they need, according to a new study that finds about one-third of some 40 million adults in the U.S. with hearing issues haven't seen a hearing specialist. 

Dr. Neil Bhattacharyya is a professor of Otolaryngology at Harvard Medical School. He co-authored the study and says the reason so many with hearing loss aren't getting treatment is two-fold: "It's a little bit on the patient's side, a little bit on the clinician's side."

Many people just accept hearing loss as a fact of life and some doctors aren't screening for it in the first place, says Bhattacharyya.

Besides the obvious difficulties that come with poor hearing, research has indicated that hearing loss raises the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer's, and exacerbates the symptoms of those diseases for those who have them.

The study, published Wednesday in JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery, found that hearing loss isn't exclusive to older people.

"Interestingly, you kind of expect that people would have that biggest peak at 50 to 59," says Bhattacharyya. But there are more than six million people who said their hearing loss started between the ages of 20 and 29, according to the study. "We suspect that this is a group of kids who are using their iPods and cellphones and are listening to music right in their ears 12 hours a day," he says.