10 facts about deafness
Updated March 2018
Millions of people across the world live with disabling hearing loss. The vast majority live in low- and middle-income countries where they often do not have access to appropriate ear and hearing care services.
Without suitable interventions, hearing loss poses a significant challenge in the lives of those affected. Many causes of hearing loss can be prevented through public health measures. Through rehabilitation, education and empowerment, people with hearing loss can reach their full potential.
Raising awareness and improving access to services at the primary health care level can help to reduce the prevalence and adverse impact of hearing loss.
Fact 1: There are 466 million people in the world with disabling hearing lossThis is over 5% of the world’s population; 34 million of these people are children. Unless action is taken, by 2030 there will be nearly 630 million people with disabling hearing loss. By 2050, the number could rise to over 900 million. Disabling hearing loss is defined as:
* Adults (15 years and older): hearing loss greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear;
* Children (0 – 14 years of age): hearing loss greater than 30 dB in the better hearing ear
Fact 2: Unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of 750 billion international dollarsThere are significant costs associated with the impacts of unaddressed hearing loss. These include costs to the health, education and employment sectors as well as the costs associated with lost productivity. Interventions to address hearing loss including prevention, screening and provision of hearing devices are cost effective.
Fact 3: 34 million children have disabling hearing lossIt is estimated that up to five out of every 1000 babies are born with hearing loss or acquire it soon after birth. Hearing loss can have a significant impact on a child’s development and educational achievements. Early identification of such hearing loss followed by prompt and suitable interventions can help to ensure that children with deafness and hearing loss enjoy equal opportunities in society.
Fact 4: Chronic ear infections are a leading cause of hearing lossOver 30% of hearing loss in children is caused by diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis and ear infections. It is estimated that up to 330 million people suffer with chronic ear infections or chronic otitis media globally. When left untreated, chronic ear infections lead to hearing loss and can cause life-threatening complications and mortality. Chronic ear infections are preventable and can be managed effectively through medical and surgical interventions.
Fact 5: Nearly 1 out of every 3 people over 65 years are affected by disabling hearing lossLeft untreated, hearing loss can lead to people being excluded from the most basic communication, thereby contributing to feelings of loneliness, frustration and social isolation. Hearing loss in the elderly is linked with early cognitive decline and dementia. Age-related hearing loss can be managed effectively through a variety of means, including hearing aids.
Fact 6: Noise is a major avoidable cause of hearing lossIt is estimated that 1.1 billion people (aged between 12-35 years) are at risk of developing hearing loss due to noise exposure in recreational settings such as concerts and sporting events and through the use of personal audio devices. Regular exposure to loud sounds for prolonged periods poses a serious threat of irreversible hearing loss. This is largely preventable through raising awareness of risks, legislation and following safe listening practices.
Fact 7: Hearing loss can be caused by occupational noise and the use of ototoxic medicationsIn many places occupational noise, such as the loud sounds of machinery and explosions, has become the most compensated occupational hazard. Occupational noise can largely be prevented through improved awareness of the danger it poses and use of personal protective devices. Some commonly used medicines (such as aminoglycosides and certain anti-malarial medicines) can also lead to irreversible hearing loss. Ototoxicity can be prevented by raising awareness of its risks among health care providers and by the rational use of drugs.
Fact 8: People with hearing loss can benefit from devices such as hearing aids and cochlear implantsCurrent production of hearing aids meets less than 10% of the global need, and in developing countries, this figure is less than 3%. It is estimated that there are 72 million people who could potentially benefit from the use of a hearing device.
Fact 9: Sign language and captioning services facilitate communication with deaf and hard of hearing peopleDeaf people often use sign language as a means of communication. Family members, medical professionals, teachers and employers should be encouraged to learn signs/sign language in order to facilitate communication with deaf people. The use of loop systems in classrooms and public places, as well as the provision of captions on audio-visual media, are important for improving the accessibility of communication for people with hearing loss.
Fact 10: 60% of childhood hearing loss is preventable through public health actionsStrategies for the prevention of hearing loss include:
* Strengthen maternal and child healthcare programmes including immunization
* Implement infant and school-based hearing screening
* Train healthcare professionals in hearing care
* Make hearing devices and communication therapies accessible
* Regulate and monitor the use of ototoxic medicines and environmental noise
* Raise awareness to promote hearing care and reduce stigma