Currently 466 million people worldwide suffer from disabling hearing loss, 34 million of whom are children. This is up from 360 million people five years ago.
The main reasons for this increase is a growing ageing population and the persistence of risks such as ear and vaccine-preventable infections like measles, mumps and rubella; the use of medicines that can harm hearing such as those used to treat drug-resistant tuberculosis and malaria; and exposure to loud sounds through personal audio devices and in entertainment venues and workplaces.
“Past trends and future projections predict a vast increase in the number of people with hearing loss,” says Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the WHO Department for Management of Noncommunicable Diseases, Disability, Violence and Injury Prevention. “Unless appropriate action is initiated, nearly 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.”
Disabling hearing loss affects people in many ways. It impacts on a person’s ability to communicate, socialize, learn, work and enjoy life, contributing to poverty, social isolation and feelings of loneliness. In older people in particular, hearing loss is linked to cognitive decline, increasing the risk of depression and dementia. Unaddressed hearing loss costs countries an estimated US$ 750 billion annually in direct health costs and loss of productivity.