There are no recent population-based data on the prevalence of hearing loss in older adults using standard audiometric testing. The population-based Epidemiology of Hearing Loss Study was designed to measure the prevalence of hearing loss in adults aged 48-92 years, residing in Beaver Dam, Wisconsin. Hearing thresholds were measured with standardized protocols using pure-tone air- and bone-conduction audiometry in sound-treated booths. The examination also included an otoscopic evaluation, screening tympanogram, and a questionnaire on hearing-related medical history, noise exposure, other potential risk factors, and self-perceived hearing handicap. Of the 4,541 eligible people, 3,753 (82.6%) participated in the hearing study (1993-1995). The average age of participants was 65.8 years, and 57.7% were women. The prevalence of hearing loss was 45.9%. The odds of hearing loss increased with age (odds ratio (OR) = 1.88 for 5 years, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.80-1.97) and were greater for men than women (OR = 4.42, 95% CI 3.73-5.24). The male excess of hearing loss remained statistically significant after adjusting for age, education, noise exposure, and occupation (OR = 3.65). These results demonstrate that hearing loss is a very common problem affecting older adults. Epidemiologic studies are needed to understand the genetic, environmental, and sex-related determinants of age-related hearing loss and to identify potential intervention strategies.