As we celebrate another World Hearing Day on March 3, there are signs that years of effort by the World Health Organization (WHO) and others to draw attention to the importance of hearing care may be starting to pay off. And the timing couldn’t be better, because certain risks to good hearing remain all around us.
This year, the WHO is emphasizing the importance of coordinating hearing care with primary care to make it easier for those with hearing loss to get the help they need. Easier care should lead to more care.
That same spirit underpins efforts worldwide to make hearing technology more ubiquitous. Regulatory initiatives have taken root that will make hearing aids more easily available to those with mild or moderate loss — a huge step forward that could help millions of people, who otherwise wouldn’t, take greater long-term ownership of their hearing care. More ubiquitous hearing aids should lead to greater usage.
That’s significant, because as the WHO is acutely aware, not enough people take care of their hearing nor seek hearing aids when they need them. In Canada alone, as many as 4.6 million people live with unaddressed mild to moderate hearing loss. Worldwide, the WHO estimates that by 2050, nearly one in four people will experience hearing loss, and about 700 million will need access to hearing care.
Mild to moderate hearing loss may seem tolerable to those who suffer from it (knowingly or not), but its effects can be wide-ranging. It can lead suffers to withdraw from social situations when understanding others and communicating with them becomes too difficult. And when hearing loss manifests this way, it’s been shown to affect mental and physical health.
If there’s a silver lining, it’s that eventually, about 20 percent of those who need them seek hearing aids. Unfortunately, it takes an average of seven years to do so — years when more readily available solutions could provide the bridge to long-term, professional hearing care.
In those intervening years, we know hearing risks mount, not subside, especially in our digital age of gadgets and wearables. One of the greatest risks is noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL).