WHO: 1/4 Of US Adults To Experience Hearing Loss By 2050

Jeff Wagner talks with audiologist Dr. Dave Fabry, chief innovation officer at Starkey, about a the stunning data in a new report by the World Health Organization (6:40). WCCO 4 News At 10 - April 4, 2021

Video Transcript

JEFF WAGNER: A new report by the World Health Organization says one in four adults will experience hearing loss by 2050. The health issue is growing and the pandemic is not helping. Tonight, I spoke with audiologist Dr. Dave Fabry. He is the chief innovation officer at Starkey.

Dave, thank you for joining us. We'll start with our first question. What were your key takeaways from that WHO report on global hearing?

DAVE FABRY: I think a number of important takeaways were found in that global hearing-- global hearing report, which was launched on World Hearing Day, March 3. The first is that hearing loss is a rapidly growing health issue. And to put that into perspective, the WHO estimates that there are currently 430 million individuals around the world with what they consider to be a "disabling" amount of hearing loss. And that number is expected to more than double by 2050 to a billion people.

In total, the World Health Organization estimates that up to 2 billion people will have some degree of hearing loss-- that's one in four of the population-- by 2050. The second take home I would say is that it's, in many cases, that hearing health resources are not easily accessible in all communities. And that lack of resources is glaring.

In emerging low income countries, the vast majority have less than 1 million-- one ENT per million people, one audiologist per million people, and woefully short on teachers and speech therapists to help encourage speech and language development in the use of hearing aids when they're able to be provided.

And then the final take home, I would say, is that we need global solutions to address this issue. I've had the good fortune to work with the Starkey Hearing Foundation, and one key that we've looked at because of the shortages and the sheer number of individuals in many cases that are in those low and middle income countries, that they need to user community based model to really provide scalability and sustainability. So those are my-- my high level take homes from the World Health Organization report.

JEFF WAGNER: You mentioned this already, and I think there's some common sense there, if I'm listening to my music way too loud, it's going to have an impact on my ability to hear. But simply wearing earbuds and wearing headphones is something a lot of people have done much more over the past year or so. What type of impact has that had across the board?

DAVE FABRY: Essentially had a huge impact. Now, we're built to hear all day, every day. Hearing is one of those senses that never shuts off, if you think about it. Even when you go to sleep at night, your ears are ready and ready for action, if you will. But the important thing is not to overexpose your ears to sound pressure.

Fortunately, as you mentioned, on Zoom calls and just listening to music to isolate and provide a little privacy from commotion as many of us are working again now in public places or working in open environments. The issue is, technology can help. Even on your smartphone on both Android and iPhone platforms under the Health app, they will actually report the ambient sound levels that you're exposed to on a daily basis. The louder those are, the greater the risk of noise exposure.

And also, they'll report the sound levels that they're measuring through your headphones. So the closer that number gets to 85 decibels observed throughout the day, the more likely it is that you may suffer some noise damage unintentionally in listening. And when you think about parents of children, when my daughter was growing up, I used to say, if you stood an arm length's away and could sing along to-- with the song that your child was listening to and it was too loud. But even that, as you mentioned with insert earphones, now that rule doesn't apply anymore.

But what I tell parents to do is to use the headphones that your child is actually using with their iPod, their player, or their phone, put them on and listen. If it's too loud for you, it's too loud for them. You can set parental controls on Android phones and iPhones so that it won't exceed a level that you deem uncomfortable. And then, you can also check to see those environmental sound levels that your child is-- is listening to, and also the headphone levels. Keep it below 85 decibels to ensure that they're not subjecting themselves or you're not subjecting yourself to noise damage.

JEFF WAGNER: So the use of headphones and earbuds may have impacted-- most likely impacted our ability to hear, especially during this pandemic. But have there been any challenges because of the pandemic and how that might impact our hearing?

DAVE FABRY: Well, I think a lot of us have found that the use of face masks have really been challenging. When we first started having mask mandates, the inability to read lips, surprisingly, is really difficult when you're wearing a face mask. And then as well, the sound is attenuated, it's reduced in muscle. And so that makes communication more difficult if you have normal hearing.

With people-- for people with untreated hearing loss, those who aren't wearing hearing aids, it can become very challenging, almost impossible to understand speech. And then when you go onto Zoom calls like this lighting impacts it, and as I said, the loss of lip reading cues. So a symptom of all of that has been that the use of face masks and social distancing has made it more difficult for us to communicate.

JEFF WAGNER: Interesting way to approach it there. Anything you'd recommend for someone who is starting to realize, maybe I am having some hearing issues?

DAVE FABRY: Well, I think many of us have started to see, for the reasons that we've discussed, Zoom calls, encountering people with face masks, if you've noticed that you're having more difficulty during this pandemic, that it's relatively straightforward. Go to see an audiologist or a hearing instrument specialist to get your hearing tested.

It's easy to do, straightforward. And even if you have only mild hearing loss right now, it's a good baseline. And if you don't want to take the time, or you're concerned about going into a health care environment if you haven't been vaccinated yet, get vaccinated. But if you haven't, you can go online. We have a hearing test online available at Starkey.com, W-W-W dot Starkey, S-T-A-R-K-E-Y dot com.

JEFF WAGNER: Well, Dave, you've given us an informational earful, pun intended there. But I think we did absolutely learn about-- about this-- this issue that maybe many people didn't realize was as spread out as it is around the globe and also now, the-- the ways to address-- [AUDIO OUT]

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