Most clinical audiologists are directly involved in the identification and management of hearing loss. It is, after all, common practice for audiologists to complete a case history and basic assessment to determine if the individual has a medical condition requiring a medical referral. Those individuals that do not have a “red flag” medical condition involving the ear, assuming they are motivated, become candidates for other forms of remediation, usually hearing aids.
Relatively recently, however, it is hearing loss as a public health issue that has attracted the attention of researchers around the world. Just one week ago Cochlear pledged $10 million to John Hopkins University to study the impact hearing loss has on public health. From a public health perspective, it is the health outcomes of an entire community, not the individual that is of interest.
Last week, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading national public health institute of the United States, published Grand Rounds: Promoting Hearing Health Across the Lifespan. It’s a document that clearly describes the prevalence of hearing loss, many of the underlying causes and ways to prevent it.
Experts indicate that hearing loss is the third most commonly reported chronic health condition in the US and untreated hearing loss has been linked to a number of other conditions, including anxiety, depression, loneliness, and stress. The World Health Organization estimates that over 5% of the world’s population – 360 million people – has disabling hearing loss.
The CDC Report highlights that a whopping 14% of the work age population (27.7 million Americans) has hearing loss and 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous levels of noise in the workplace. The report indicates that non-occupational noise exposure is also a contributing factor to the large number of young adults having hearing loss.
The CDC’s Grand Rounds report discussed other factors affecting hearing health as well as initiatives to improve individual and societal outcomes regarding hearing. In addition, the report called for a coordinated public health efforts to reduce hearing loss that go beyond clinical service and traditional areas of diagnosis, treatment and research with a focus on epidemiologic monitoring, health promotion and disease prevention. These represent opportunities for audiologists and other hearing care professionals to get more involved in public health initiatives.
One of the authors of the CDC report is Deanna Meinke, PhD, professor of audiology at the University of Northern Colorado and co-director of Dangerous Decibels, a public health campaign designed to reduce the incidence and prevalence of noise induced hearing loss by knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of school-aged children.
A primary task of the CDC is to protect public health and safety through the control and prevention of disease, injury, and disability in the US and internationally. The CDC, according to their website, focuses much of its attention on infectious disease, food borne pathogens, environmental health, occupational safety and health, health promotion, injury prevention and educational activities designed to improve the health of United States citizens.
A CDC Public Health Grand Rounds, on the topic was held on Tuesday, June 20, 2017. A live webcast of the event will be available on CDC’s website. More information about this Grand Rounds session can be found here.