The World Health Organization Estimates 2.5 Billion with Hearing Loss by 2050

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The world population is on the rise, and international policy makers are concerned about the effects of this population growth on many dimensions of social life. Not only are resources potentially more scarce, but also the harmful effects of these populations will escalate at the global level. Public health officials are particularly concerned with the growth of health concerns that affect the global population. Diseases will be able to spread more widely, and the sheer number of people with health problems is sure to grow alongside this population explosion. What would be more concerning than a growth in the raw number of people with a given health condition would be if it became more prevalent. Those factors working together could put an enormous burden on the resources available for public health initiatives. 


One health condition that is of great concern to public health officials is the increase in hearing loss. The World Health Organization just released a prediction about the number of people who are likely to live with hearing loss by the year 2050. They estimate that a full 2.5 billion people will be in need of treatment and assistance, putting an enormous strain on the available resources. Let’s take a closer look at this increase, as well as some of the reasons for concern that the proportion of people with hearing loss might skyrocket, as well. 


New Concerns for Hearing Loss


The World Health Organization has made hearing loss a high priority in the coming years. Among other life-threatening health concerns, they are prioritizing hearing loss due to new causes that could be more detrimental than in past generations. Young people are showing higher rates of hearing loss, compared with prior generations at the same age. This fact is cause for alarm, meaning that even more people might have hearing loss by the time they reach old age. What might be driving this increase in youth and young adult hearing loss? One of the factors of concern is new: technology. With ready access to a 24/7 supply of streaming audio, people are listening to more media than ever. Whether in the form of music, television, video, audiobooks, or podcasts, it is possible to spend much more time listening than ever before. Some people do so at a quiet volume that does not cause harm to hearing, but others test the limits with very loud sound. Particularly through earbuds and headphones, this volume can cause noise-induced hearing loss in a surprisingly short time. For instance, a smartphone at maximum volume can cause permanent hearing loss in a matter of minutes. European states have put a limit of 100 decibels on iPhones, but iPhones in the United States have been measured at up to 115 decibels for certain media at maximum volume. This dangerous volume might be responsible for some of the increase in hearing loss. As the years go by, those who already have noise-induced hearing loss are likely to have age-related hearing loss, as well. In combination, older populations in the future might have even higher rates of hearing loss than expected. 


Prevention and Treatment


The World Health Organization and other public health institutions are taking a double-barreled approach to hearing loss at the level of the global population. The first step is prevention, and public awareness campaigns can do a lot to encourage people to prevent hearing loss through safe practices. Whether they wear hearing protection or limit the duration and volume of use of media players, these preventative acts can help bring down the number of people with hearing loss in the future. The second tactic is to expand access to treatment. In some parts of the world, hearing aids are readily available and even provided as a public health service. In other parts of the world, hearing aids are available, but they come at a cost to the consumer. However, in some parts of the world, it is difficult to obtain hearing aids, and the World Health Organization is working to expand access to aids in these parts of the world. You can do your part by spreading the word about prevention strategies and getting a hearing test as soon as you are concerned that hearing loss might be an issue for you.