Apr 1, 2024 - Health

Rural Georgia sees higher rates of hearing loss

Hearing loss prevalence
Data: SoundCheck; Map: Alice Feng/Axios Visuals

There's an urban-rural divide among Georgians who experience hearing loss, according to a recent study estimating the condition's prevalence down to the county level.

Why it matters: The findings have important implications for public health officials, policymakers and more.

Zoom in: Roughly 6.3% of Fulton residents experience at least mild hearing loss, per the study.

  • That's an estimated 65,412 people, roughly on par with other core metro Atlanta counties.

Yes, but: Rural residents show higher rates of hearing loss, reaching as high as 26.6% in north Georgia's Fannin County.

Between the lines: The federally funded and peer-reviewed study from nonpartisan research group NORC at the University of Chicago found hearing loss is more prevalent in rural areas across the U.S.

  • It's unclear exactly why, but exposure to factory or farming equipment could be contributing.
  • Rural areas also tend to suffer from inadequate health care access, meaning residents may have trouble getting the treatment they need for hearing conditions.

By the numbers: Georgia screened roughly 93% of the state's 127,051 babies before they turned 1 month old in 2022 — just under the state's benchmarks — according to the state's Commission for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing's most recent report.

  • However, the state shows exceptionally poor rates of later connecting them to care for diagnosis and interventions.

The big picture: The study found that more than 1 in 9 Americans experience at least mild hearing loss in both ears.

  • The condition is closely tied to age: an estimated 8.9% of Americans ages 35–64 experience hearing loss, compared to 72.7% of those age 75 or older.
  • Race and gender are also factors. An estimated 14.6% of white, non-Hispanic Americans suffer from hearing loss, compared to 6.2% of Black Americans.
  • And an estimated 13.1% of men experience hearing loss, compared to 10.1% of women.

How it works: The study is based on merged data from the 2001–2012 and 2015–2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, an effort by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to collect public health data from interviews, examinations and lab testing.

  • The researchers updated the survey data to match 2019 U.S. population estimates.
  • They also used statistical modeling to estimate hearing loss at the state and county levels, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau's American Community Survey and other sources. (Read the full methodology.)

Worthy of your time: You can go deeper into the study's results at Sound Check, a snazzy website built around its findings.

The bottom line: While these geographic and socioeconomic breakdowns are vital for policymakers and others, "hearing loss is a problem everywhere," the study's lead author, David Rein, tells Axios.

  • "It's something that affects all groups and affects all of us as we age."
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