Hearing Loss: Understanding the Gender Gap
Hearing loss is more common in men than women. Understanding why can help everyone protect their hearing.
Studies show that men (20-69) are almost twice as likely as women in the same age range to have hearing loss.1 Yet men and women are born with the same hearing ability. The gender gap usually begins around age 30. So why the disparity?
Occupational Risk Factors
In the past many of the jobs that involve regular exposure to prolonged and extreme noise were done predominantly by men — think manufacturing, construction, mining, military and law enforcement.
Then, in World War II, women started working in places like factories to help the war effort, forever changing the workplace. Today, women are increasingly involved in those professions, and are being exposed to the same noise risks, but men still outnumber women in those areas.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that about 22 million American workers are exposed to dangerous noise levels on the job. While law requires that workers be provided ear protection where noises at unsafe levels are present, many fail to take proper precautions. Therefore, people in these jobs are three times more likely to develop hearing loss.
Behavioral Risk Factors
Another possible contribution to the disparity is behavior. For instance, new data now suggests that smoking leads to a higher risk of hearing loss. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis of CDC data, 18.6% of U.S. males smoke regularly versus 14.3% of females.2
An eight-year, peer-reviewed study of more than 50,000 people found that smokers were up to 1.6 times more likely to suffer hearing loss than people who never smoked, even with noise exposure and other risk factors taken into account. The risk declined within five years after a person quit smoking.3
Health Risk Factors
There are a number of underlying health factors for hearing loss that are more common in men, and here genetics plays a role. High blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes are all major risk factors for hearing loss. Practicing healthy habits can help prevent or reduce the hearing loss that may result from these conditions. Talk to your Health Care Professional about what you can do to reduce your risks.
Many people avoid hearing aids because they think it might affect the way others see them. Dr. Steven Rauch, an Otologist with Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts Eye and Ear, says, “…hearing aids symbolize declining age and health and that their best years are behind them.” But the reality is that if left untreated, hearing loss can have a huge impact on your life, relationships and mental health due to “…higher risks of social isolation, depression, dementia, and reduced physical activity,” says Dr. Rauch.4
There should be no more stigma in correcting hearing loss with hearing aids than correcting a vision problem with eyeglasses. And the failure to seek treatment doesn’t discriminate by gender. Over 50 million people in the United States have hearing loss, but only 1 in 3 people who need hearing aids actually use them.
Better Hearing for Everyone
You can protect yourself against hearing loss by using proper ear protection when needed and leading a healthy lifestyle. Talk to your Health Care Professional about what you can do if you are at risk for any of the conditions that contribute to hearing loss. If you need another reason to stop smoking, add hearing loss to the list.
And if you think you or someone you know may have hearing loss, come in for an evaluation today. There are many kinds of advanced, discrete hearing aids that can bring the world of better conversations and everyday sounds back into life.
1. Hoffman HJ, Dobie RA, Losonczy KG, Themann CL, Flamme GA. Declining Prevalence of Hearing Loss in US Adults Aged 20 to 69 Years. JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery. December 2016 online.
2. KFF (Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation) Website, “Percent of Adults Who Smoke By Gender,” 2017.
3. Study published in Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 3/14/2018; reported by Robert Preidt in “HealthDay,” WebMD 3/15/2018.
4. Quoted in “Now hear this, men: Hearing aids can be a lifechanger,” Harvard Health Watch, Harvard Health Publishing, posted online by Matthew Solan, 11/25/2016.