Hearing Loss: A Growing Public Health Problem

Hearing loss is on the rise, and a growing body of evidence shows that this has implications for your overall health.

Many of us assume that hearing loss is just a natural part of aging. In fact, it is a public health problem that spans all age groups.

It’s also on the rise. The world is getting louder, exposing us to hazardous levels of noise that can cause sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL). Today, 20% of people around the world have some degree of hearing loss, and that number is expected to rise to 25% by the year 2050.1

The consequences of untreated SHNL can be costly to both individuals and society. Recent research has linked hearing loss to social isolation, depression and cognitive decline.2 It is also associated with poor health care outcomes, higher health care costs and higher unemployment rates.3

How prevalent is hearing loss?

Around the Globe

  • 1.5 billion people around the world have some degree of hearing loss1
  • 90% of these cases are caused by SNHL
  • Another 1.1 billion people between the ages of 12 and 35 are at risk of acquiring hearing loss, as exposure to recreational noise increases.4

In the U.S.

  • Hearing loss is the third most common chronic condition after hypertension and arthritis.5 It is twice as prevalent as diabetes or cancer.6
  • As of 2020, about 40 million have SNHL, and that number is expected to grow to 48 million by 2030.
  • 22 million people are exposed to hazardous noise in the workplace, putting them at risk of SNHL.7
  • 1 in 8 children ages 6-19 already have hearing loss in one or both ears caused by exposure to hazardous noise, such as loud music.8

A Growing Public Health Problem

Hearing loss and your overall health

Hearing loss increases an individual’s risk of other health conditions, such as:

  • Clinical depression
  • Dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and other types of cognitive decline
  • Falls and associated injuries, which can be fatal in the elderly9

Hearing loss is also associated with a worse physical activity profile and contributes to accelerated aging.10

Individuals with hearing loss make more visits to the emergency room, and have more frequent and longer hospital stays.3

Untreated hearing loss also results in poorer healthcare outcomes overall, possibly because it is more difficult for healthcare providers to communicate effectively with patients who don’t hear clearly.

These healthcare issues translate into higher medical expenses for people with hearing loss – to the tune of an extra $22,434 over a ten-year period.11

Social and economic impact beyond healthcare

  • Untreated hearing loss interferes with daily social interactions, leading to social isolation and feelings of frustration and loneliness. These can all contribute to a poorer quality of life.
  • Adults with hearing loss have a higher unemployment rate, which reduces their income and ability to afford healthcare.
  • Adults with hearing loss who are employed tend to have lower-grade jobs.
  • Children with even mild hearing loss may miss up to 50% of classroom discussions, which has negative consequences for their education and future.
  • The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates the global cost of untreated hearing loss is $980 billion annually in terms of the negative impacts on productivity, healthcare, education and society.
  1. World report on hearing. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2021. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
  2. The Hearing Review. Hearing Loss and Associated Comorbidities: What Do We Know? (epub Nov. 30, 2017)
  3. Reed, N, et al. Trends in Health Care Costs and Utilization Associated With Untreated Hearing Loss Over 10 Years. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg 145(1): 27–34 (2019)
  4. World Health Organization (WHO). Deafness and Hearing Loss. (epub/last updated March 1, 2020)
  5. Center for Disease Control (CDC). Occupational Hearing Loss Surveillance. (epub/last updated Dec. 19, 2019)
  6. Blackwell DL, Lucas JW, Clarke TC. Summary health statistics for US adults: National Health Interview Survey, 2012. Vital Health Stat 10. 2014;260:1-161.
  7. Tak S, Davis RR, Calvert GM (May 2009). "Exposure to hazardous workplace noise and use of hearing protection devices among US workers--NHANES, 1999-2004". American Journal of Industrial Medicine. 52 (5): 358–71.
  8. Niskar AS, Kieszak SM, Holmes AE, Esteban E, Rubin C, Brody DJ. Estimated prevalence of noise induced hearing threshold shifts among children 6 to 19 years of age: The third national health and nutritional examination survey. 1988-1994, United States. Pediatrics 2001;108:40–43.
  9. Deal JA, Reed NS, Kravetz AD, et al. Incident Hearing Loss and Comorbidity: A Longitudinal Administrative Claims Study. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019;145(1):36–43.
  10. Pei-Lun Kuo, Junrui Di, Luigi Ferrucci, Frank R Lin. Analysis of Hearing Loss and Physical Activity Among US Adults Aged 60-69 Years
  11. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2019 Jan 1;145(1):27-34. doi: 10.1001/jamaoto.2018.2875.