Risk factors associated with adult deafness

March 15, 2013 by David Mayer

Risk factors associated with adult deafness

With age, people often notice their hearing isn’t what it used to be. Hearing loss due to age is called presbyacusis. It is the primary sensory loss in the aging process, affecting 33% of people aged 65 and over, and 50% of those aged 70 and over. Presbyacusis is characterized by bilateral sensorineural hearing loss (affecting the inner ear), which is more acute at high frequencies (high-pitched tones). The degree of loss, however, varies greatly from one person to another.

While biological wear and tear on the auditory system and certain injuries, ailments or diseases (otitis, cholesteatoma, perforation of the tympanic membrane, otospongiosis, Meniere’s disease, etc.) can cause hearing loss, there is a multitude of factors that can affect hearing. A study by Kaulsson et al. indicated that heredity accounts for 58% of the variation in auditory thresholds among people aged 56 to 65, and for 47% of the variation among people over 65. It is generally accepted that women have better hearing than men. While one obviously can’t alter age or genetics, steps can still be taken to preserve healthy hearing as long as possible.


Working in a noisy environment is likely the most significant avoidable risk factor.

In Québec, an estimated 400,000 to 500,000 workers are exposed to excessive noise at work (making industrial deafness one of the most frequent occupational injuries, affecting 60% of employees in the manufacturing sector).

In spite of the hazards, few workers wear hearing protectors on a regular basis (as few as 12 to 16% according to Fransen et al.). Using firearms and listening to loud music are also considered risk factors. Certain chemicals (organic solvents, heavy metals, carbon monoxide, herbicides and pesticides, etc.) in the work environment increase auditory system risk factors. Workers remain fairly unaware of the dangers, but many of these products are commonplace in industry (solvents, paints, plastics, fuels, pharmaceutical products, metallurgy, etc.).

Medical factors

A link between hearing loss and certain diseases is starting to gain recognition. Diabetics, for example, are twice as likely to suffer from hearing problems. Myocardial infarction, high blood pressure and a high body mass index also increase the risk of hearing loss. Conversely, tall people have, on average, better hearing.

Alcohol consumption

Where alcohol consumption is concerned, moderation is key. Alcohol abuse is associated with a higher prevalence of hearing problems, whereas moderate consumption has a protective effect (likely because of the beneficial effects on the cardiovascular system).

While hearing loss has often been viewed as inevitable, an increasing number of studies show that our lifestyle, environment and health directly influence our hearing.

Don’t hesitate to contact your audiologist for more information.

– Better Hearing Institute. “American Diabetes Association Alert Day,” betterhearing.org (March 7, 2010).
– Mayer, David, and Valérie Perron. “Le bruit et les produits chimiques : un mélange explosif,” Bruit et audition, Université de Montréal (2006).
– Fransen, Erik et al. “Occupational Noise, Smoking, and a High Body Mass Index are Risk Factors for Age-related Hearing Impairment and Moderate Alcohol Consumption is Protective: A European Population-based Multicenter Study,” Journal of the Association for Research in Otolaryngology, 9 (2008), pp. 264-276.
– Ohgami, Nobutaka, Takaaki Kondo, and Masashi Kato. “Effects of light smoking on extra-high-frequency auditory thresholds in young adults,” Toxicology and Industrial Health (Sept. 2010).
– Girard, Serge-André et al. “Le bruit en milieu de travail : une analyse des coûts pour le régime d’indemnisation,” INSPQ (October 2007), 60 p.