Contributed by Debbie Clason, staff writer, Healthy Hearing
Advocates for the Deaf and individuals with hearing loss in the United States will tell you we’ve made a lot of progress in the past decade. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has helped improve access, healthcare and awareness for our citizens with hearing loss.
Even though critics will tell you there’s still work to be done, for the most part we lead the way in hearing healthcare and accessibility for countries around the world. Studies by the World Health Organization indicate wealthy countries have significantly lower levels of hearing loss than their economically-challenge counterparts. Many of these countries said they either have more pressing health concerns to address or lack the funding for educational resources needed to educate hearing healthcare professionals and provide services for those with hearing loss.
According to John Hopkins researchers, nearly one in five Americans age 12 or older have some type of hearing loss. That’s more than our neighbors in the UK and Australia, who estimate one in six of their population suffers from the same.
This may be due to the lifestyle we lead. 26 million Americans suffer noise-induced hearing loss, which is the most common form of hearing loss in the United States as well as the easiest to prevent. Eating right and exercising may also protect our hearing health. Americans with heart disease and diabetes, both circulatory diseases, are almost twice as likely to develop hearing loss.
Interestingly, while a larger portion of our population has hearing loss, we are quicker to do something about it. Hearing healthcare professionals in the United States estimate it takes an average of eight years for an individual to address his hearing loss compared to ten in the UK.
And, while hearing aids generally aren’t covered by private insurance companies in the United States, they are covered by UK’s National Health Service (NHS). The NHS provides healthcare services to every legal resident registered with the system. Most services, including hearing aids, are free. Others are provided at a reduced rate.
In Australia, the Australian Government Hearing Services Program provides free hearing services to residents who meet the eligibility requirements. Services include a comprehensive hearing assessment by a qualified hearing healthcare professional, support and rehabilitation services for hearing loss and access to a variety of hearing instruments.
According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), approximately two to three of every 1,000 children in the United States are born deaf. Three of every four children will experience an ear infection by the time they are four years old.
Thanks to efforts by organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), every state has implemented a newborn hearing screening program which screens the hearing of each baby born in a hospital or birthing clinic. Those who are diagnosed with a hearing loss have access to a wide variety of social services and accessibility programs, beginning at home and extending through their academic careers.
Statistics in other parts of the world are alarming. In 2012, the World Hearing Organization (WHO) released a study on the magnitude of disabling hearing loss. Their population-based studies indicate the prevalence of disabling hearing loss among children is greatest in South Asia, Asia Pacific and Sub-Saharan Africa. The disparity is closely related to the parents’ level of income and literacy. The lack of government resources and availability of hearing healthcare professionals also play a critical role in these statistics.
In Russia, an estimated 600,000 children suffer from a hearing loss, according to a May, 2003 report in the Moscow News. The study found seven percent of the children suffered from undetected hearing disorders. Nearly three quarters of them were later diagnosed with exudative otitis which is not detectable during a visual exam.
The results were concerning because hearing loss affects learning and academic achievement. Officials estimate hearing loss affected more than 55 percent of children who had to repeat a grade level in Russia.
The WHO believes untreated hearing loss could prevent third world countries from realizing their development potential because of the effect it has on an individuals’ education, communication skills and earning potential.
In the United States alone, hearing loss is the third leading chronic condition among older Americans. Untreated hearing loss costs the U.S. economy billions of dollars each year in medical costs related to fall injuries as well as long-term care costs associated with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
A national study by Better Hearing Institute found people with untreated hearing loss may lose as much as $30,000 annually, depending on their degree of hearing loss. The study also determined that the combined loss in annual income due to underemployment of employees with hearing loss is estimated at $176 billion – and that translates to $26 billion in unrealized federal tax dollars.