The number of people with hearing issues has been increasing with a rise in population, said Dr Shelly Chadra, technical lead on hear care, WHO on the eve of World Hearing Day which is observed on March 3 every year. “The ageing population is living longer, too, with functional decline. Chronic ear infections affect 200 million people globally, especially children, that then causes hearing loss. At the same time, exposure to loud sounds is also increasing our risk. WHO estimates that there are over a billion young people who are at risk of hearing loss because of the way they enjoy their music and entertainment,” said Dr Chadra in a Facebook Live session by WHO.
What causes hearing loss?
According to WHO, hearing loss may result from genetic causes, complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, exposure to loud sounds, use of ototoxic medicines, and ageing. Hearing loss may be mild, moderate, severe, or profound. It can affect one ear or both ears, and leads to difficulty in hearing conversational speech or loud sounds, as per WHO.
What are the gaps?
According to Dr Chadra, hearing gaps is a “global issue”. “It is prevalent across the entire world. We do see that 1.5 billion people currently have some kind of hearing loss. Nearly a third of them require hearing services to carry on day-to-day functioning. This number is likely to go up to 2.5 billion by 2050. While the majority live in low and middle-income countries, the prevalence is high across all income groups and different age groups,” said Dr Chadra.
As per WHO, of those who could benefit from the use of a hearing aid, only 17 per cent actually use one. The gap is consistently high in all parts of the world, ranging from 77 per cent to 83 per cent across WHO regions, and from 74 per cent to 90 per cent across income levels.
“What we see is a huge need. We also see that we have many interventions, very effective solutions in terms of sign language, hearing aids that are available but there is a mismatch. People who need them don’t have access. So this report details how we can bridge that gap,” mentioned Dr Chadra, referring to the first-ever World Report on Hearing.
According to WHO, while those ‘hard of hearing’ with a hearing loss ranging from mild to severe usually communicate through spoken language and can benefit from hearing aids, cochlear implants, and other assistive devices as well as captioning, deaf people mostly have profound hearing loss, which implies very little or no hearing. They often use sign language for communication.
Pandemic for people with hearing difficulties
The pandemic has been challenging for people with hearing impairment, as they primarily rely on lip-reading. “But lip-reading gets masked by the mask. So, that’s posing a challenge coupled with physical distancing. While video meetings have made meetings more accessible but you lose over the body language which forms an essential part of communication,” remarked Dr Chadra as part of the Facebook Live session.
She added how masks with clear panels have been developed in many parts of the world and could benefit if people can wear them when communicating with persons with hearing loss. “Hearing loss is invisible so wherever possible, can use such panel masks,” mentioned Dr Chadra.
Why should we be concerned?
All of us are at risk of hearing loss, as pointed out by WHO. ‘In children, almost 60 per cent of hearing loss is due to causes such as ear infections and birth complications that can be prevented through public health measures. Over 1 billion young adults are at risk of permanent, avoidable hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices,’ it states.
Measures available to rehabilitate people with hearing loss include
*Use of hearing technologies, such as hearing aids, cochlear implants and middle ear implants;
*Use of sign language and other means of sensory substitution, such as speech reading, use of print on palm or Tadoma, signed communication; and rehabilitative therapy to enhance perceptive skills and develop communication and linguistic abilities.
*Use of hearing assistive technology, and services such as frequency modulation and loop systems, alerting devices, telecommunication devices, captioning services and sign language interpretation, can further improve access to communication and education for people with hearing loss.
Can you prevent hearing loss?
Early identification of hearing loss and ear diseases is key to effective management. According to WHO, “systematic screening for detection of hearing loss and related ear diseases in those who are most at risk” includes newborn babies and infants, pre-school and school-age children, people exposed to noise or chemicals at work, people receiving ototoxic medicines and older adults.
Dr Chandra mentioned, “Hearing loss can be prevented”. “Today, we don’t think that hearing loss is a natural consequence of age. Good ear hygiene is a poignant key. Using earbuds to clean the ears is a practice that is fairly common but is known to be harmful. It can lead to ear infections, wax accumulations etc. Avoiding loud sounds coupled with checking our hearing through app-based technologies are interventions that we can do at the personal level,” she said.