Deafness and hearing loss, along with blindness, is one of the most common forms of disability across the world. Hearing impairment can vary in degrees but total hearing loss can be caused by a variety of things including an inherited condition, certain diseases and even excessive exposure to high noise levels.
Half of hearing loss can be prevented either through medical intervention, stopping a particular activity (such as working with noisy heavy machinery or listening to loud music) or helped by introducing devices such as hearing aids. Some medicines such as anti-malarial tablets can cause hearing loss as a side effect. In the case of deafness, learning to sign and lip read are all methods whereby a person with this disability can take a fuller part in society.
Being deaf can have a functional, social and emotional impact on a person. In developing countries children with a hearing loss problem often do not receive the education that others get and suffer economically and educationally as a result.
- The World Health Organisation estimates that some 360 million people have a disabling hearing problem.
- Of these 32 million are children.
- 5 out of every thousand children will develop or be born with a hearing loss disability.
- On a global scale, the production of hearing aids is thought to currently only meet about 10% of the need. This drops to 3% in developing countries.
- A third of older people will suffer from some form of hearing loss.
- It’s estimated that over a billion of us are actually at risk for deafness due to recreational activities such as listening to music at too high a volume.
In the USA, hearing loss and deafness follow the same pattern as in many developing countries:
- Around 48 million Americans experience some form of hearing loss.
- Although hearing aids and treatment are available, it’s thought that about 80% of people in America don’t use one.
- 2 to 4 out of every thousand people in the USA are considered as ‘functionally deaf’. If you include those with a severe hearing impairment this figure rises to 9 to 22 in every thousand.
- The more severe a hearing impairment is, the more likely it is to affect income and life chances.
In Europe and the UK:
- 55 million people in Europe are thought to suffer from some form of hearing loss.
- As in other countries, only a small number (1 in 6) take advantage of hearing aid technology to help their condition.
- 11 million people in the UK suffer from hearing loss and just under 1 million are considered severely deaf or profoundly deaf.
- 45,000 children in the UK are deaf and 70% of over 70 year olds have some form of hearing impairment.
- 24,000 people in the UK use sign language to communicate.
- It takes an individual about 10 years on average to actually face up to any potential hearing loss.
Around the rest of the world, deafness remains a common disability:
- In Sub-Saharan Africa, lack of skilled care can affect the life chances of many with hearing impairment or deafness. Cultural attitudes can particularly impede children, denying them education and economic and social advancement.
- Disabling hearing loss in children is unevenly distributed around the world. High income areas, particularly those in the affluent West, are at about 0.5% but in areas such as South Asia (12.3%) and Sub-Saharan Africa (6.8%) they are much higher.
World Health Organisation: Deafness and Hearing Loss
Hearing Loss: Facts and Statistics
National Association of the Deaf