Low Income at Disproportionate Risk for Hearing Loss

By Morgan Leppla

Hearing loss affects people of every age, race, and socioeconomic level. However, there are circumstances that put different people in danger of acquiring it. While some causes of hearing loss are avoidable or controllable, others are are not easily escaped. Low income people are much more likely to suffer from hearing loss than those who earn higher salaries, witnessed in both children and adults.

There are a number of reasons for this disproportional risk. Access to regular and preventative health care can be scarce so the prevalence of health problems tends to be higher overall, including that of hearing loss. Middle ear infections are more common, as is lead poisoning and malnutrition. Such detriments affect physical as well as mental development in children, and impact socio-emotional and academic performance. This disparity is heightened within underfunded school systems where sufficient accommodations for all disabilities, including hearing loss, may not be available.  

Low income caretakers of children experience additional external burdens due to a host of factors, such as long work schedules, literacy level, and language proficiency. These factors also make it difficult for caretakers to advocate on behalf of their children, or possibly notice their children’s developmental delays as a result of potential hearing loss.

Low income individuals who have emigrated from developing nations are also more likely to have already experienced some degree of permanent hearing damage. They are also often ushered into low-paying jobs that can include occupational workplace hazards like dangerously loud noises or exposure to chemicals.

People of color have  a higher risk for acquiring hearing loss. While non-Hispanic Whites still constitute the largest single group of Americans living in poverty, ethnic minority groups are overrepresented (27.4 percent African-American; 28.4 percent American Indian and Alaskan Native; 26.6 percent Hispanic, and 12.1 percent Asian and Pacific Islander compared with 9.9 percent non-Hispanic White). 

Lastly, men of all races, in low income jobs that may include physical labor, are even more at risk than other men. (If you didn’t already know, men are more likely than women to have a hearing loss, regardless of income levels).

Preventing hearing loss requires effort communicating with groups that are more at risk. If we are to end hearing loss as an epidemic, it makes sense to promote and extend hearing health care to populations who could use it most.

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