On March 3, 2018, World Hearing Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that due to a larger aging population and global disease risk, the hearing loss population could skyrocket by 2050. Currently, there are about 466 million people worldwide who have some measure of hearing loss.
Why do more people have hearing loss?
Treatable infections such as syphilis, measles, mumps, and rubella are a large cause of hearing loss in the developing world. Those in developed countries are more consistently vaccinated against diseases that can cause hearing loss, but many around the globe do not have access to these vaccines. Additionally, certain drugs such as those used to treat tuberculosis and malaria can bring about hearing loss if there is not adequate medical care.
Increasing lifespan is also a major cause in hearing loss growth: age-related hearing loss is one of the most common types of hearing loss. As the world gets older in larger numbers than ever, the number of older people with hearing loss also increases.
How hearing loss affects the world
Dr. Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence, and Injury Prevention, states that “[n]early one in 10 people could have disabling hearing loss by 2050. This will considerably affect their lives and pose a significant cost to health systems. Governments must act now to prevent this rise and ensure people with hearing loss can access the services and technologies they need.”
Hearing loss is a condition that needs to be managed for one’s entire life—there is no one-time treatment that restores hearing. Hearing aids, cochlear implants, and wearable technology can all mitigate hearing loss but are significant investments. Untreated hearing loss leads to lost time and money—WHO estimates that unaddressed hearing loss costs $750 billion worldwide each year.
Children with hearing loss are also greatly affected. In developing countries, children who suffer from hearing loss rarely receive schooling and can have trouble finding jobs as they get older. Hearing loss is often a huge barrier to success for these children, and WHO estimates that 75% of hearing loss in children under 15 in developing countries is preventable hearing loss.
WHO strategies for hearing loss
WHO states that half of all cases of hearing loss can be prevented through public health measures. These measures include:
- Immunization, especially for children and women of reproductive age strengthening maternal and child health programs, educating about hygiene and ear health
- Early screening for otitis media (a significant cause of childhood hearing loss) and other hearing issues
- Reducing occupational and recreational exposure to dangerous noise levels
Hearing loss is also under-addressed in developed nations. The stigma around hearing loss, cost, and systemic barriers discourage people from seeking medical treatment. If you suspect you have hearing loss, it is imperative to take get action by visiting an audiologist or learning about your hearing loss with our Online Hearing Test.
By: Elena McPhillips
Reference: World Health Organization