The study, by charity Action on Hearing Loss and Newcastle University, monitored 1142 Newcastle-born babies from 1947 to the present day, measuring their health, growth and development. Now in their sixties a quarter of them have had their hearing tested.
Study lead Dr Mark Pearce said: "Our findings show that those who suffered from infections as a child were more likely to have a hearing loss in their 60’s. Reducing childhood infection rates may help prevent hearing loss later in life.
"This study shows the importance of the Newcastle birth cohorts, with the study initially focusing on childhood infections. The study is nearly 70 years old and continues to make a major contribution to understanding health conditions, which is only possible through the continued contribution of cohort members.’
Infections such as tonsillitis, ear infections and multiple episodes of bronchitis or other severe respiratory infections during the first year of life were linked to hearing loss when people were over 60.
These links persisted, even when factors known to influence hearing, such as a noisy working environment, having an ear operation, gender and socio-economic backgrounds, were taken into account.
Dr Ralph Holme, Head of Biomedical Research at Action on Hearing Loss, added: "Hearing loss affects as many as one in six people across the UK and is often seen as just another sign of getting old, however the study shows that this is not necessarily the case; illnesses in childhood could have long-lasting consequences for hearing in later life.
"Hearing loss can have a big impact on a person’s life, isolating them from family and friends, and has been linked to other health conditions like depression and dementia. These findings remind us that it’s never too early to think about protecting your hearing."
The paper, The Effect of Childhood Infection on Hearing Function at Age 61 to 63 Years in the Newcastle Thousand Families Study, was published in the journal Ear and Hearing.