But according to the World Health Organization, that may not be the case for much longer. In its first World Report on Hearing, released in March, the WHO noted that by 2050, 2.5 billion people — approximately 25% of the entire world — will suffer from some degree of hearing impairment

Let's talk about why, and more importantly, how we might address this. According to the WHO's report, there are a few contributing factors at play here. 

  • Lack of accurate information. Unfortunately, there's no shortage of snake oil salespeople online and far too many myths and falsehoods about hearing loss. People either have no idea how to identify, prevent, or manage impending hearing impairment or else are working with entirely inaccurate data. 
  • Attitudes towards hearing impairment. Hearing loss isn't just overlooked but widely stigmatized. This even extends to the government, as many countries have not implemented hearing care into their overall health systems.
  • Poor access to necessary resources. The WHO's report notes that 78% of low-income countries have fewer than one ear, nose, and throat (ENT) specialist per million people, and 93% have fewer than one audiologist per million people. Speech therapists and teachers for the deaf fared poorly as well, and even in higher-income countries, professionals are unequally distributed.

As you may have surmised, preventing and mitigating the impending wave of hearing loss is going to require both corporate and government action. But these aren't the root causes of the problem. They simply exacerbate it.

In children, poor maternal and neonatal care reportedly accounts for nearly 60% of preventable hearing loss. Vaccination against common illnesses such as meningitis and rubella is a significant piece of advice. Parents should also regularly screen for ear infections and push for better education. 

For adults, it's a bit more complicated. The WHO advises that people don proper hearing protection in extremely loud environments while also practicing safe listening — not listening to extremely loud music through earbuds, for example. It further advises regular auditory exams, proper ear hygiene, and cultivating an understanding of ototoxic medication. 

Hearing impairment has always been something of an invisible disability. Perhaps that's why it's been overlooked or ignored for so many years. Either way, things need to change.

We need to start giving hard-of-hearing (HoH) individuals the same level of attention as those suffering from other disabilities. We need to start promoting better education about what causes hearing impairment and how it can be treated. And perhaps most importantly, we all need to do our part to kill the stigma that so often surrounds hearing loss. 

A stigma that has existed for far, far too long.