July 20, 2024

The Cost of Hearing Loss

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that unaddressed hearing loss costs roughly $980 billion each year. This includes health, educational support and lost productivity costs. In addition, untreated hearing loss has been associated with an increased need for treatment and a higher risk of being readmitted to the hospital once discharged. The increased risk is thought to be due to the cognitive and functional decline often accompanying hearing loss. 

Treatment for hearing loss can be expensive, with the cost of hearing aids ranging from $297 to $7,000, depending on brand and features. Additional costs for hearing treatment may include visits to an audiologist. For profound hearing loss and deafness, your audiologist may recommend cochlear implants, which will require additional medical procedures and costs. 

Hearing loss also has personal costs, including those associated with loneliness and social isolation, which can lead to depression, as well as negative impacts on cognitive and psychosocial health. Hearing is also considered a key component of quality of life. When hearing is impacted, personal communication and relationships may suffer. Hearing problems can negatively impact otherwise enjoyable activities, such as listening to music, going out to dinner, attending a movie or exploring nature.

Hearing Loss Statistics

Signs and symptoms of hearing loss develop over time, and you may not immediately know there’s a problem. 
Some common indications you may have hearing loss include:

  • You’re told you talk too loudly or shout when speaking to others.
  • You’re often asked to turn down the television or radio because it’s too loud.
  • You have a hard time understanding people on the phone. 
  • You often ask people to repeat themselves.
  • You easily misunderstand people, especially in loud environments.

Hearing loss can happen from:

  • Damage to the inner ear (sensorineural)
  • Damage to the outer or middle ear (conductive)
  • A combination of both (mixed) 

Exposure to loud noises, certain medications, earwax or fluid buildup, infection or a damaged eardrum can result in hearing loss. You can treat hearing loss with hearing aids or get medical treatment for the underlying cause.

While roughly one in three people 65 to 74 years old experience hearing loss, hearing loss can affect anyone, no matter how old you are. Some facts about hearing loss include:

  • In the U.S., two to three out of every 1,000 children are born with hearing loss in one or both ears. For people over the age of 75, nearly half experience hearing loss.
  • By the year 2050, an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide will be affected by hearing loss.
  • Globally, more than 1 billion young adults are at risk for hearing loss from unsafe listening practices. 
  • Chronic ear infections cause hearing loss in children, and five out of six children experience ear infections by age three.
  • About 22 million people in the U.S. experience hazardous noise levels at work; unfortunately, occupational hearing loss is permanent. 

Hearing Loss and Tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of ringing, buzzing, whooshing or other sounds not attributed to an outside source that no one else can hear but you. Roughly 50 million people in the U.S. experience tinnitus, and 90% of these people also have some degree of hearing loss. Possible causes of tinnitus include noise exposure, medications, wax buildup, ear infections and head or neck injuries. While tinnitus has no cure, treatment with hearing aids and sound generators has had some success by moving focus to external sounds instead of the tinnitus sounds.

Facts About Deafness

Hearing loss is classified as mild, moderate, severe and profound. If someone is hard of hearing, their hearing loss typically falls into the mild, moderate or severe categories. Those with profound hearing loss can’t hear speech and can only hear loud sounds. An estimated 6.6 million people in the U.S. 12 years of age and older experience severe to profound hearing loss in at least one ear. 

Combined worldwide statistics for hearing loss and deafness indicate more than 1.5 billion people have hearing loss, with 430 million of these experiencing disabling hearing loss, including deafness. The World Federation of the Deaf states that there are 70 million deaf people worldwide using more than 200 sign languages to communicate. 

Hearing Loss by Age

Hearing loss impacts those in all age groups. Roughly two to three out of every 1,000 children in the U.S. have some degree of hearing loss. For American teens, the number is one in five. Maintaining healthy hearing is crucial, as mild hearing loss can result in a 50% reduction in understanding classroom discussions. 

Roughly 12.5% of people between six and 19 years old have hearing loss directly associated with loud music, specifically from the use of earbud headphones at high volumes. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends three age intervals for hearing screenings for older children and younger adults: 11 to 14, 15 to 17 and 18 to 21.

Presbycusis is the term for age-related hearing loss that occurs gradually over time. Changes to the middle ear, repeated exposure to loud noises, high blood pressure and diabetes have been associated with this common form of hearing loss. In the next several decades, hearing loss is projected to continue to increase, with estimates showing that by 2060, the number of people with moderate to profound hearing loss will exceed the number of people with mild hearing loss now. 

Hearing Loss Prevention

Preventing hearing loss requires a multifaceted approach. According to the WHO, public health measures can reduce new cases of hearing loss by half. Limiting exposure to loud noises or music and using earplugs are some of their recommended preventive measures. They also recommend routine hearing screenings throughout childhood and note that early interventions are crucial to maintaining hearing. In addition, frequent ear hygiene and seeking treatment for persistent ear aches can help prevent hearing loss from damage caused by ear infections. 

Loud noise is a preventable cause of hearing loss. Certain everyday activities, events and tools are sources of loud noise. Examples of these noises include the high volume levels associated with fitness classes, music and live concerts, sporting events, power tools and lawn equipment. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides suggestions for protecting your hearing, including:

  • Keep the volume of your TV, radio or music at reasonable levels.
  • Take listening breaks when exposed to loud noise, such as concerts or sporting events.
  • Use hearing protection devices such as earplugs, earmuffs or electronic noise reduction devices.
  • Perform routine maintenance (repair and lubrication) on power tools and recreational equipment to keep the noise level as low as possible.

In addition, you can maintain a safe work environment by taking measures to prevent occupational noise-induced hearing loss. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends keeping noise levels below 85 decibels, which is comparable to the sound of loud city traffic. Maintaining lower noise levels can help decrease worker fatigue, increase productivity and lower workers’ compensation costs. Repeated exposure to sound levels higher than 85 decibels can result in tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and other health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. Hearing protection is highly recommended if the work environment is noisy. Employers should try to eliminate or reduce noise in the workplace and provide hearing protection equipment and training to their employees to minimize their risk of hearing loss. 

Bottom Line

Hearing loss impacts all ages, and the number of people affected will reportedly increase in the coming decades. Many factors, including loud noises and ear infections, can cause hearing loss. For the younger population, evidence shows that prolonged use of earbuds and other headphones at high volumes has contributed to hearing loss, with 12.5% of people between the ages of six and 19 years old estimated to have hearing loss associated with loud music. Minimizing exposure to loud noises and using appropriate hearing protection, such as earplugs or earmuffs, can help mitigate the risk of hearing loss.

If you do have hearing loss, treatment is critical. Only one in five people with hearing loss who would benefit from using a hearing aid actually do. Unfortunately, hearing loss left untreated can lead to depression, social isolation and loneliness. If you suspect you have hearing loss, take an online hearing test or talk to an audiologist about getting your hearing tested.  

Resources

Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA), Hearing Loss Facts and Statistics

National Center for Health Statistics (2022), Percentage of Any Difficulty Hearing for Adults Aged 18 and Over, United States, 2019—2022. National Health Interview Survey

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Age-Related Hearing Loss (Presbycusis)

National Institute on Aging, Hearing Loss: A Common Problem for Older Adults

National Institute on Aging, Loneliness and Social Isolation – Tips for Staying Connected

U.S. Food & Drug Administration, Hearing Loss 

National Health Service, Hearing Loss

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Quick Statistics About Hearing 

World Health Organization (WHO), Deafness and Hearing Loss

JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery (2019), Trends in Health Care Costs and Utilization Associated With Untreated Hearing Loss Over 10 Years

Life (Basel) (2021), Hearing Loss and Cognitive Impairment: Epidemiology, Common Pathophysiological Findings, and Treatment Considerations

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cochlear Implants

Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery (2021), Hearing Loss, Loneliness, and Social Isolation: A Systematic Review

National Hearing Conservation Association (NHCA), Hearing is Quality of Life

American Tinnitus Association, Why Are My Ears Ringing?

National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, Tinnitus

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Understanding Hearing Loss

American Journal of Public Health (2016), Prevalence of Hearing Loss by Severity in the United States

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), If I Can Hear It, It’s Too Loud: Earbuds & Teen Hearing Loss

JAMA Otolaryngology-Head & Neck Surgery (2017), Addressing Estimated Hearing Loss in Adults in 2060

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, What Noises Cause Hearing Loss?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, How Do I Prevent Hearing Loss from Loud Noise?

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Preventing Occupational Noise-Induced Hearing Loss 

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