Researchers at Duke University and Nottingham University in the UK issued a comprehensive report summarizing the “growing, and alarmingly high” burden of hearing loss around the world. The report, written by Blake Wilson, Debara Tucci, Michael Merson and Gerard O”Donahue was published in the Lancet on July 10.
The Lancet article reviewed the most recent Global Burden of Disease (GBD) data, collected in 2015. This data indicated that hearing loss has moved from the 11th leading cause of years lived with disability (YLD)* in 2010 to the 4th leading cause of YLD in 2015.
The GBD data also indicated the prevalence of disabling hearing loss is far greater today than 30 years ago. Specifically, global prevalence of hearing loss for both sexes combined increased from 14.33% in 1990 to 18.06% in 2015. Moreover, the estimated prevalence for disabling hearing loss (>35 dB HL losses) increased from 5.73% in 1990 to 6.42% in 2015. Among the reasons for the increase in prevalence is a growing aging population around the globe; a topic of a recent special section of the Economist.
Global Hearing Loss Increases As Population Ages
The report summarized the enormous economic and personal consequences of hearing loss around the world, and emphasized that more than 80% of individuals around the globe with hearing loss reside in low and middle income countries. The authors laid out a multi-prong approach to reducing the global burden of hearing loss. Like the now familiar PCAST and NASEM reports, included in their recommendations were ideas on how to lower costs and improve outcomes such as using automated hearing screening, public awareness campaigns and the provision of centers of excellence for complex cases.
Overall, the July 10 Lancet report serves as a good example of how hearing loss – and its consequences – is a public health challenge with several stakeholders beyond audiology.
Healthcare professionals, third party payers, medical & consumer electronic device makers and communities are among the key players in reducing the overall global burden of hearing loss.
Perhaps more relevant to audiology, the GBD data in the Lancet report also serves as a reminder that the provision of over-the-counter (OTC) hearing aids are one possible way to reduce the overall burden of disease caused by hearing loss. And, if OTCs are to become a reality soon, the way care is delivered by audiologists and hearing instrument specialists is likely to change in at least two ways: the unbundling services apart from the sale of the device and an increased emphasis on delivering more comprehensive counseling & support for complex cases. These are two areas hearing care professionals will need to strengthen as public health experts and other key advocacy groups push for better access and affordability around the globe.
*Per the World Health Organization, years lived with disability (YLDs) are a measurement of the burden of disease. YLDs are calculated by multiplying the prevalence of a disorder by the short- or long-term loss of health associated with that disability. Neuropsychiatric disorders (mental and behavioral disorders) are the leading cause of global YLDs, followed by musculoskeletal disorders and other non-communicable diseases. When YLDs are added to the number of years of life lost for a certain disease or disorder, the burden of disability associated with a disease or disorder can be reported in units called disability-adjusted life years (DALYs).