Self-reported hearing problems among older adults: prevalence and comparison to measured hearing impairment

J Am Acad Audiol. 2011 Sep;22(8):550-9. doi: 10.3766/jaaa.22.8.7.


Background: There are not many population-based epidemiological studies on the association between self-reported hearing problems and measured hearing thresholds in older adults. Previous studies have shown that the relationship between self-reported hearing difficulties and measured hearing thresholds is unclear and, according to our knowledge, there are no previous population-based studies reporting hearing thresholds among subjects with hyperacusis.

Purpose: The aim was to investigate the prevalence of self-reported hearing problems, that is, hearing difficulties, difficulties in following a conversation in noise, tinnitus, and hyperacusis, and to compare the results with measured hearing thresholds in older adults.

Research design: Cross-sectional, population-based, and unscreened.

Study sample: Random sample of subjects (n=850) aged 54-66 yr living in the city of Oulu (Finland) and the surrounding areas.

Data collection and analysis: Otological examination, pure tone audiometry, questionnaire survey

Results: The prevalence of self-reported hearing problems was 37.1% for hearing difficulties, 43.3% for difficulties in following a conversation in noise, 29.2% for tinnitus, and 17.2% for hyperacusis. More than half of the subjects had no hearing impairment, or HI (BEHL[better ear hearing level]0.5-4 kHz<20 dB HL) even though they reported hearing problems. Subjects with self-reported hearing problems, including tinnitus and hyperacusis, had significantly poorer hearing thresholds than those who did not report hearing problems. Self-reported hearing difficulties predicted hearing impairment in the pure-tone average at 4, 6, and 8 kHz, and at the single frequency of 4 kHz.

Conclusions: The results indicate that self-reported hearing difficulties are more frequent than hearing impairment defined by audiometric measurement. Furthermore, self-reported hearing difficulties seem to predict hearing impairment at high frequencies (4-8 kHz) rather than at the frequencies of 0.5-4 kHz, which are commonly used to define the degree of hearing impairment in medical and legal issues.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Audiometry, Pure-Tone / statistics & numerical data
  • Auditory Threshold
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Hearing Loss / diagnosis*
  • Hearing Loss / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Hyperacusis / diagnosis*
  • Hyperacusis / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Random Allocation
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Tinnitus / diagnosis*
  • Tinnitus / epidemiology*