Importance: Psychological distress affects health and health care utilization. Hearing loss (HL) is highly prevalent and undertreated, and it may be a potentially modifiable risk factor for psychological distress.
Objective: To investigate the association between HL, psychological distress, and mental health care utilization among adults in the United States.
Design, setting, and participants: This cross-sectional study included 25 665 individuals aged 18 years and older who participated in the 2017 National Health Interview Survey, a home-based nationally representative cross-sectional survey of noninstitutionalized US adults conducted by trained interviewers.
Exposures: Self-reported hearing and hearing aid use.
Main outcomes and measures: Kessler psychological distress scale (scores ≥5 indicating moderate distress), self-reported use of medication to treat depression or anxiety symptoms, and use of mental health services in the past year.
Results: A total of 25 665 adults (mean [SD] age 47.0 [18.1] years, 51.7% [95% CI, 51.0%-52.5%] women, weighted to be representative of the US adult population) were included in the analysis. Compared with 11 558 participants (49.3%; 95% CI, 48.2%-50.5%) with no HL, the 9390 (35.3%; 95% CI, 34.4%-36.2%) with mild HL and 4717 (15.4%; 95% CI, 14.8%-16.0%) with moderate or worse HL had increased odds of moderate psychological distress (mild HL: odds ratio [OR], 1.49; 95% CI, 1.35-1.62; moderate HL: OR, 2.12; 95% CI, 1.87-2.41) and were more likely to report antidepressant medication use (mild HL: OR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.17-1.67; moderate HL: OR, 2.07; 95% CI, 1.70-2.57), and antianxiety medication use (mild HL: OR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.16-1.67; moderate HL: OR, 1.94; 95% CI, 1.57-2.39). Moderate HL was associated with increased odds of use of mental health services (moderate HL: OR, 1.53; 95% CI, 1.30-1.79). Among individuals with moderate HL, those with hearing aids (1066 [22.6%]) were less likely to experience psychological distress than those without hearing aids (3651 [77.4%]; OR, 0.66; 95% CI, 0.53-0.83).
Conclusions and relevance: In a large nationally representative sample of US adults, self-reported HL was associated with both greater psychological distress and increased rates of antidepressant and antianxiety medication use and utilization of mental health services. Further research is needed to investigate whether HL may be a modifiable risk factor for these outcomes.