Globally, it is estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people live with some form of hearing impairment. Major causes of hearing loss include infection/disease, age-related factors, and occupational factors. Numerous systematic reviews and meta-analyses have attempted to synthesise literature on these topics. To date there has not been a systematic evaluation of the relationships between hearing impairment and diverse physical, mental, and social outcomes.
We performed an umbrella review of systematic reviews of observational studies with meta-analyses for any physical disease, biomarkers of disease, mental health or cognitive outcomes, and/or modifiable risk factors associated with hearing impairment.
For each meta-analytic association, random effects summary effect size, 95% confidence intervals, heterogeneity, evidence for small-study effect, excess significance bias and 95% prediction intervals were calculated, and risk of bias was assessed via the AMSTAR2 tool. These were used to grade significant evidence (p < 0.05) from I to IV, using the recommendations from the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) criteria.
From 3747 studies, 21 were included covering 54 outcomes. Overall, 44/54 outcomes (82%) yielded significant results. Of the highest quality evidence, age-related hearing loss and non-specific hearing impairment were negatively associated with several types of cognitive impairments; pediatric bilateral hearing loss was negatively associated with quality of life, sensorineural hearing loss was positively associated with rheumatoid arthritis and tinnitus was positively associated with temporomandibular disorders.
Conclusion and relevance
Results show moderate quality evidence for associations between several types of hearing impairments and cognitive difficulties, quality of life and systemic diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Practitioners and public health policies should note these findings when developing relevant healthcare policies.