Physician hearing loss

Am J Otolaryngol. 2006 Jan-Feb;27(1):18-23. doi: 10.1016/j.amjoto.2005.05.014.


Purpose: Hearing is an important sense for physicians, making communication and stethoscope use possible, yet not much is known about the impact of hearing loss on professional function. The purpose of this study was to explore hearing-related issues affecting physicians.

Materials and methods: We administered a hearing test and questionnaire to 107 physicians and medical students.

Results: The proportion of physicians reporting trouble with their hearing increased with age, reaching almost 100% in those older than 60 years. Audiometric hearing loss also increased with age. Perceived hearing trouble was significantly associated with audiometric hearing loss, yet 46% of physicians with hearing loss described their hearing as good. Older physicians more frequently reported difficulty communicating with patients, staff, and colleagues owing to hearing problems (P = .007). Reported stethoscope difficulties did not significantly increase with age; there was no association with hearing thresholds. No physician reported use of electronic stethoscopes or hearing aids. Noise exposures were common, yet 51% of respondents never used hearing protection. Younger physicians were less likely to use protection (P = .002).

Conclusion: Physicians lose hearing with age but may not notice or report the loss. Physician hearing loss is associated with difficulty communicating with patients, staff, and colleagues. Neither age nor hearing level predicts problems with stethoscope use; possible explanations include a training effect or denial. Many physicians, especially younger ones, never use hearing protection around noise. Strategies to recognize and reduce the impact of hearing loss on professional function throughout a physician's career deserve greater attention.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Age Distribution
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Audiometry
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss / diagnosis*
  • Hearing Loss / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Physician Impairment / statistics & numerical data*
  • Prevalence
  • Probability
  • Risk Assessment
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • Students, Medical / statistics & numerical data
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United States / epidemiology