Make a sound investment: Prevent and treat hearing loss

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Hearing loss can significantly reduce quality of life. [Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock]

Around 52 million EU citizens have self-reported hearing loss. The cost of not treating hearing loss is estimated at some €178 billion every year, write Lidia Best, Mark Laureyns and Soren Hougaard.

Lidia Best is vice-president of the European Federation of Hard of Hearing People (EFHOH), Mark Laureyns is president of the European Association of Hearing Care Professionals (AEA) and Soren Hougaard is secretary-general of the European Hearing Instrument Manufacturers Association (EHIMA).

Today (3 March) is the official WHO World Hearing Day. This year the message from the WHO (World Health Organisation) is “Action for hearing loss – Make a sound investment”. Hearing loss is one of the disorders that both affects most people and has the greatest impact on people’s lives and health. But hearing loss is also among the disorders that can be treated and prevented most efficiently.

Surveys in several European countries have shown that 10-12% of all adults self-report that they have hearing loss. This adds up to more than 52m people in the EU.

Seniors aged 60+ are most affected by hearing loss, but more and more young people now also suffer from hearing loss due to exposure to loud noise, especially from listening to too loud music on their smartphones. The WHO estimates that globally, 1.1bn young people are at risk of developing hearing loss.

The WHO has increased the disability weighting for hearing loss between 2010-2013, saying that hearing loss impacts the life of individuals far more than previously estimated. The GBD (Global Burden of Disease) for mild hearing loss has been doubled, while the GBD for severe and profound hearing loss have been multiplied by more than five.

Untreated hearing loss is costly

On a world-wide basis, the WHO has found that unaddressed hearing loss poses a high cost for the economy globally, namely $750bn annually. In the EU, the societal cost of untreated hearing loss is estimated to be €178bn each year.

Increased healthcare costs are among the major costs associated with not treating hearing loss. It is documented that hearing loss is associated with depression, cognitive decline and dementia. Another major societal cost of untreated hearing loss is increased unemployment, premature retirement and lower tax revenues and other societal costs because of withdrawal, communication difficulties and social isolation. Furthermore, untreated hearing loss results in additional educational costs.

There is no cure for hearing loss. You cannot get your hearing back with medication and surgery. In most cases, a hearing loss is treated with modern digital hearing aids that help the hard of hearing hear much better, or with various types of implants.

Far more people could be treated for hearing loss and live higher quality lives, but today too many live with untreated hearing loss.

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