March 3 is World Hearing Day

Photo credit: Sahil prajapati

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

March 3 is World Hearing Day, established by the World Health Organization in 2007 to draw attention to hearing and the care of people with auditory difficulties. Each year, WHO establishes a theme for this special day. 

This year’s theme is: “Changing mindsets: let’s make ear and hearing care a reality for all!” Those of us living in the United States or western Europe may not understand that ear and hearing care is essentially unavailable in much of the world due to a limited numbers of audiologists and otolaryngologists in many countries in Africa, Asia and Central and South America. Access is also limited by the difficulty of getting from rural villages to the bigger cities, where limited hearing health care may be available. WHO estimates that unaddressed hearing loss costs the world $980 billion annually.

The objectives of this year’s World Hearing Day are:

  • Counter common misperceptions related to ear and hearing problems in communities and among health care providers.
  • Provide accurate and evidence-based information to change public perceptions of ear and hearing problems.
  • Call on countries and civil society to address misperceptions and stigmatizing mindsets related to hearing loss, as a crucial step toward ensuring equitable access to ear and hearing care.

“Hearing loss has often been referred to as an ‘invisible disability,’ not just because of the lack of visible symptoms, but because it has long been stigmatized in communities and ignored by policy makers,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. 

That’s certainly true in the United States. Here, noise problems have been ignored by the federal government since the EPA’s Office of Noise Abatement and Control was defunded in 1981. Additionally, the government’s response to the hearing loss epidemic in older people appears to be limited to making cheaper over-the-counter hearing aids. There are also no federal guidelines or standards for noise exposure for the public. The only guidance available is for workers with occupational noise exposure.

My only concern about this year’s World Hearing Day, and those in previous years, is that not enough attention is paid to prevention of auditory disorders. Prevention is more effective and cheaper than treatment. The only treatment for mild to moderate hearing loss is hearing aids, which don’t restore normal hearing. Noise-induced hearing loss, the most common type of hearing loss, is the only type that is 100% preventable, according to the CDC. If I had a say, the theme each year would be related to prevention, not treatment. 

Preventing noise-induced hearing loss and other conditions caused by noise exposure, like tinnitus and hyperacusis, is simple and inexpensive. Turn down the volume, leave the noisy environment or use hearing protection and one’s ears should last a lifetime.

Plus, a quieter world will be a better and healthier world for all.

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