Deaf population in the World 2022

At least 700 million people will suffer from disabling hearing loss

One in every four individuals, or around 2.5 billion people, across the world will experience mild-to-profound hearing loss by 2050, said World Health Organization (WHO) in a new report. It is estimated that at least 700 million people will suffer from disabling hearing loss and require ear and hearing care, WHO said.

WHO defines disabling hearing loss as greater than 40 decibels (dB) loss in adults and greater than 30 dB in children.

Exposure to excessive noise, was cited by the first World Report on Hearing as one of the reasons for the disability. Genetic causes, complications at birth, certain infectious diseases, chronic ear infections, the use of particular drugs and ageing are the other factors mentioned by WHO.

“1.1 billion young people (aged between 12–35 years) are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise in recreational settings,” mentioned a 2020 WHO report on deafness and hearing loss.

Over five per cent of the global population — 432 million adults and 34 million children — have disabling hearing loss. Till 2020, however, only 17 per cent of those who required hearing aid, actually used one.

Around 60 per cent of hearing loss among children is due to preventable causes, WHO said in the new report that will be formally launched on World Hearing Day on March 3, 2021. The organisation also observed that a large share of the world population with deafness or hearing loss is in low- and middle-income countries.

Auditory disabilities are often not taken seriously by people and WHO has observed a knowledge gap regarding prevention and treatment of such diseases in medical professionals.

But most healthcare systems across the globe have a glaring shortage of human resource that have to deal with ear ailments. The report said:

“Among low-income countries, about 78 per cent have fewer than one ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist per million population; 93 per cent have fewer than one audiologist per million; only 17 per cent have one or more speech therapist per million; and 50 per cent have one or more teacher for the deaf per million.”

Integrating ear and hearing care in the primary healthcare systems of countries can help bridge this gap, WHO said in the report.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 5% of the world’s population suffers from disabling hearing loss. Five percent may seem like a small number, but that totals over 360 million people across the globe.

The majority of these people live in low- and middle-income countries, where the access to healthcare and quality of health organizations is lower than that of the United States.

Global Causes of Hearing Loss

In the U.S., hearing loss is more likely to be caused by genetics than any other factor—over half of the cases of hearing loss are due to genetic predisposition. In the developing world, however, preventable medical issues are often factors in hearing loss.

Otitis media—chronic ear infections in the middle ear—is a major cause of hearing loss in the developing world. Pregnancy complications also often lead to hearing loss in babies and children. Maternal infections, such as rubella or syphilis, can lead to congenital hearing loss—meaning a person is born with hearing loss or develops it soon after birth.

Diseases such as meningitis, measles, or mumps (which most people in developed countries are vaccinated against) are also factors in hearing loss. Even antimalarial medicines can lead to hearing loss.

Age is also an important factor in hearing loss around the world. It is estimated that 25% of all adults with hearing loss are over 65 years old.  The highest occurrences of hearing loss in this age group are in South Asia, Asia Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa.

By 2020, the percentage of hearing loss incidence in these areas is expected to grow by 42.9%, 46.4%, and 38%, respectively, due to the growth in worlds population of people 65 and older.

Health Organizations: Prevention and Treatments

One of the most important ways to prevent hearing loss in children is better access to medical care and health organizations, for both mother and child. The infections mentioned previously are almost completely eradicated in developed countries and therefore do not cause any significant hearing loss.

Immunization, healthy ear care and habits, treating ear infections, and avoiding the use of ototoxic drugs are all steps that health organizations advocate for reducing hearing loss and deafness around the world.

There are many charities and organizations that aim to provide developing countries with hearing aids and hearing technologies. Currently, only about 10% of those with hearing loss have access to hearing aids.

One innovation that is growing in popularity in developing countries is a solar-powered hearing aid that is more sustainable and less costly than traditional hearing aids. Solar Ear is a company that developed a solar-powered, easily rechargeable hearing aid for lower-income patients in Brazil.

The hearing aids only need to be charged once a week, and last year. They also are creating mobile apps to test the hearing of young children without requiring a trip to a hospital or an audiologist. Solar Ear also employs deaf workers almost exclusively, who are especially attuned to the needs of those with hearing loss.

Hearing loss is one of the world’s most prevalent health concerns, and preventable hearing loss affects millions of people around the world. While age-related hearing loss is almost impossible to prevent, there are organizations, charities, and individuals who are making great contributions to lessen hearing loss around the globe.

References: World Health Organization, Harvard Medical School Center for Hereditary Deafness, Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Al Jazeera

By: Elena McPhillips

Geneva, 2 March 2022 – Over 1 billion people aged 12 to 35 years risk losing their hearing due to prolonged and excessive exposure to loud music and other recreational sounds. This can have devastating consequences for their physical and mental health, education, and employment prospects.

Ahead of World Hearing Day 2022, under the theme To hear for life, listen with care! WHO has issued a new international standard for safe listening at venues and events. The standard applies to places and activities where amplified music is played.

“Millions of teenagers and young people are at risk of hearing loss due to the unsafe use of personal audio devices and exposure to damaging sound levels at venues such as nightclubs, bars, concerts and sporting events,” said Dr Bente Mikkelsen, WHO Director for the Department for Noncommunicable Diseases.

She added: “The risk is intensified as most audio devices, venues and events do not provide safe listening options and contribute to the risk of hearing loss. The new WHO standard aims to better safeguard young people as they enjoy their leisure activities.”   

In the Region of the Americas, around 217 million people live with hearing loss, representing 21.52% of the population. It is expected that by 2050, this number could rise to 322 million.

New recommendations to limit risk of hearing loss

The Global standard for safe listening at venues and events highlights six recommendations for implementation to ensure that venues and events limit the risk of hearing loss to their patrons while preserving high-quality sound and an enjoyable listening experience. The six recommendations are:

(1) a maximum average sound level of 100 decibels

(2) live monitoring and recording of sound levels using calibrated equipment by designated staff

(3) optimizing venue acoustics and sound systems to ensure enjoyable sound quality and safe listening

(4) making personal hearing protection available to audiences including instructions on use (5) access to quiet zones for people to rest their ears and decrease the risk of hearing damage; and

(6) provision of training and information to staff.

The new standard was developed under WHO’s Make Listening Safe initiative which seeks to improve listening practices especially among young people, drawing on the latest evidence and consultations with a range of stakeholders including experts from WHO, government, industry, consumers, and civil society.  

Hearing loss due to loud sounds is permanent but preventable

Exposure to loud sounds causes temporary hearing loss or tinnitus. But prolonged or repeated exposure can lead to permanent hearing damage, resulting in irreversible hearing loss. Young people can better protect their hearing by:

  • keeping the volume down on personal audio devices
  • using well-fitted, and if possible, noise-cancelling earphones/headphones
  • wearing earplugs at noisy venues
  • getting regular hearing check-ups

Advocating for the new global standard

WHO encourages governments to develop and enforce legislation for safe listening and raise awareness of the risks of hearing loss. The private sector should include WHO’s recommendations for safe listening features in their products, venues, and events. To motivate behaviour change, civil society organizations, parents, teachers, and physicians can educate young people to practice safe listening habits.

“Governments, civil society and private sector entities such as manufacturers of personal audio devices, sound systems, and video gaming equipment as well as owners and managers of entertainment venues and events have an important role to play in advocating for the new global standard,” said Dr Ren Minghui, WHO Assistant Director-General. “We must work together to promote safe listening practices, especially among young people.”

Note to editors

In addition to the new global standard released today, other key technical documents include the Be Healthy, Be Mobile. A handbook on mSafeListening and Media brief on #safelistening.

In 2019, WHO launched the global standard for safe listening personal audio devices and systems. This standard is currently being implemented in some commonly marketed products where it provides users with the option to monitor and moderate their listening behaviour including sound levels and exposure time.