Context: Hearing loss in children influences the development of communication and behavioral skills, but few studies in the United States have used pure-tone audiometry to derive hearing loss prevalence estimates for children.
Objective: To describe the prevalence of hearing loss among US children by sociodemographic characteristics, reported hearing loss, and audiometric screening factors.
Design: National population-based cross-sectional survey with an in-person interview and audiometric testing at 0.5 to 8 kHz.
Setting/participants: A total of 6166 children aged 6 to 19 years completed audiometry in the mobile examination center of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted between 1988 and 1994.
Main outcome measure: Hearing loss, defined as audiometric threshold values of at least 16-dB hearing level based on a low or high pure-tone average.
Results: A total of 14.9% of children had low-frequency or high-frequency hearing loss of at least 16-dB hearing level, 7.1% had low-frequency hearing loss of at least 16-dB hearing level, and 12.7% had high-frequency hearing loss of at least 16-dB hearing level. Most hearing loss was unilateral and slight in severity (16- to 25-dB hearing level). Of those with measured hearing loss, 10.8% were reported to have current hearing loss during the interview.
Conclusions: This analysis indicates that 14.9% of US children have low-frequency or high-frequency hearing loss of at least 16-dB hearing level in 1 or both ears. Among children in elementary, middle, and high school, audiometric screening should include low-frequency and high-frequency testing to detect hearing loss.