Hearing loss affects between 5-10% of the world's population depending on the level of development of the country and it has both enormous social and economic impacts, limiting the education, employment and social participation of what would otherwise be healthy people.
Hearing loss is not only a major global health problem, but in many respects it is an under-recognized global health problem with severe economic and social impacts. In developing countries, hearing loss is part of the vicious circle of poverty and poor health that exists. In developed countries the ability to hear and communicate effectively has an impact and sets these countries on a course of visible economic development.
Unemployment is notably higher among people with hearing impairment, and their earnings are substantially lower than the non-hearing impaired population. The social impacts of hearing loss are manifested through social isolation, psychological illnesses, depression, anxiety and economics. The health impact of ear disease is manifested through expenditures for hospitalization, disability associated with the complications of ear disease such as meningitis, brain abscess, and the loss of ones life.
The problem of hearing loss is likely to increase beyond the 5% statistic listed by the WHO today because of a number of factors: the percentage increase of people over 55 years of age; the increase of life expectancy generally across all ages;, the increase especially of the 0-14 year old population; and the difficulty of access for all these populations to the care of trained physicians who can perform ear surgery. It is estimated that in the developed world alone, the number of hearing impaired people, which includes disease of the middle ear as well as nerve hearing loss, will reach 190 million. In the developing countries the number will be twice as large. If no radical improvements are made, more than 700 million people world-wide will suffer from hearing loss of more than 25 dB in 2015, meaning that they will have difficulties communicating in a noisy environment (people with a hearing loss of more than 35 dB need a hearing aid).
Children, especially in developing countries, need screening and awareness programs, disease prevention and vaccination, which is so crucial to helping avoid preventable hearing loss. Infant screening enables hearing problems to be identified early, thereby improving the likelihood of cure. In developing countries, improvements in primary health care services can prevent many of the diseases that lead to deafness, such as meningitis, malaria, malnutrition, and other diseases that have systemic implication.
The saddest part of this story is two-sided. On one hand, in developing countries, people with ear disease are frequently the poorest of the poor, geographically isolated from medical services, who cannot afford the costs for travel and accommodations when seeking care. On the other hand, the medical system frequently lacks resources for supplies and equipment such as basic microscopes; plus physicians lack the training and skills to treat ear disease. And often enough, too, physicians lack the incentive to treat impoverished patients who are unable to pay for services. So suffering continues even among the wealth of pathology and the enormous need.