Background: Hearing problems are among the top ten most common burdens of disease and are projected to be become even more common by the year 2030. The aim of the present study was to give a current assessment of the prevalence of communication difficulties due to hearing loss and tinnitus, in the general Swedish working and non-working population in relation to gender, age, socioeconomic status (SES) and noise exposure. How prevalence is affected by (SES) has not been previously established.
Methods: A total of 18,734 individuals were invited to participate in the study, out of which 11,441 (61 %) enrolled. Of the participants 9,756 answered the questionnaire for those who work and 1,685 answered the version for non-workers.
Findings: The most important findings are that 31 % in the working population and 36 % in the non-working population report either hearing loss or tinnitus or both. The prevalence of hearing problems increases with age, is higher among men and persons with low self-rated SES, and co-varies with exposure to noise at work. Severe hearing problems are already present in men and women under 40 years of age who are exposed to work-related noise.
Interpretation: Prevalence of hearing problems is far more common than previously estimated and is associated with socioeconomic status and noise exposure history. Hearing problems have a gradual onset that can take years to become recognized. In order to proactively intervene and prevent this deleterious, yet avoidable handicap, statistics need to be regularly updated.
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