How the world has changed in just over a year. The COVID-19 pandemic has truly impacted the lives of almost everyone in every country and the numbers are staggering. Over 110 million cases worldwide with over 2.5 million of those tragically losing their lives. In the USA alone, the worst country affected so far, there are over 29 million cases and over 500 thousand fatalities. And we’re not out of the woods yet.
No doubt, the aggressive containment measures taken by many countries has limited the spread of the virus to prevent it from achieving the catastrophic numbers like the Spanish Flu with over 500 million cases and 50 million lives lost. But overlooked by many is another global pandemic that has silently become a global health crisis with numbers that rival the Spanish Flu. Hearing loss.
Merriam-Webster defines a pandemic as “an outbreak of disease that occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.” Furthermore, it defines disease as “a condition of the living animal or plant body or one of its parts that impairs normal functioning.” By definition, hearing loss is a pandemic afflicting as many as 477 million people around the world including 42 million right here in the USA...and the numbers are growing dramatically every day. The World Health Organization estimates that there will be 900 million people with hearing loss by 2050 and that 1.1 billion young people are at risk of hearing loss due to exposure to noise in “recreational settings.” Adding to this tragedy is that most hearing loss goes untreated...and now with Covid, even moreso. Worse yet, no one is talking about it.
For much of this pandemic, many hearing aid clinics were closed preventing those in need of hearing care from seeking solutions. Slowly these clinics have been reopening, but the data suggests that their clientele (those over 60 and hardest hit by Covid-19) are not readily returning. According to a survey conducted by The Hearing Review, 75% of audiology clinics have re-opened and are actively accepting new patients, yet their sales/revenue remains 50-90% off their pre-pandemic levels despite their strictest of efforts to provide for a safe clinical environment. This should not be surprising to anyone given the recent apprehension towards in-person healthcare visits and the promotion of tele-healthcare by leading experts. But social distancing has been particularly hard on those with hearing loss.
Hearing loss can begin to set in during your 40s or 50s and progressively worsen over time. Most people remain unaware of their hearing loss due to, you guessed it, no testing! Further adding to the problem is that people compensate by raising the volume on the TV, leaning into conversations (which is a no-no these days), asking people to repeat themselves or learning to read lips. All of this adds to a delusional “wall-of-denial” that people create for themselves to avoid facing the fact that their hearing has faded. But in the end, they are cheating themselves.
The world is full of wonderful sounds with colorful conversations and magical moments of audio. Not hearing prevents people from hearing life to the fullest and living the social life they want. What ends up happening is that many refrain from social situations all-together...and now we ALL know what that feels like.
But in the Covid era, those with hearing loss have been burdened with further social isolation and now depend on ‘gadgets’ to communicate with the outside world...gadgets that they have a hard time hearing. A recent survey from the Hearing Health Foundation found that 87% of those with hearing loss are experiencing difficulty communicating at this time. A further 85% due to the inability to read lips. Even those who do venture out from their home are faced with the challenge of being able to hear from a distance of six feet while the speaker has their mouth covered with a mask. Communicating at a distance can be frustrating to those who ‘lean in’ to the conversation. But there are options out there for them and it starts with being informed.
It’s time to start talking about hearing loss. Information sharing, media exposure and education has slowed this COVID-19 pandemic from getting worse and we need the same strategy to prevent the spread of hearing loss or at the very least inform people of how to treat it, as today’s technology has made living with hearing loss easier. March 3, 2021 is World Hearing Day. A day designated by the World Health Organization to increase awareness of this “silent pandemic” and promote good hearing health. Eargo has made this it’s un-ending mission and helping people with hearing loss improve their quality of life is what we do every day. But we can’t do that alone. It takes a movement to spread the word and change the world. The movement starts with you. The question is, what will you do to stop this silent pandemic?