EAR HEALTH

Hearing loss on the rise, WHO warns

Data shows one out of every 10 people suffer from the problem

In Summary
  • World Hearing Day is held on  March 3 each year to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss and promote ear and hearing care across the world.
  • WHO warns that more than 700 million people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services by 2050 unless action is taken.
Doctor Richard Mwangi performs an ear check-up on on patient at his IncusEar Hearing and ENT Centre located along Ngong Road.
RISING CASES: Doctor Richard Mwangi performs an ear check-up on on patient at his IncusEar Hearing and ENT Centre located along Ngong Road.
Image: MAGDALINE SAYA

One in four people will be living with some degree of hearing loss by 2050 unless action is taken, the World Health Organisation has warned ahead of World Hearing Day Wednesday.

Impairment in hearing has risen in the past two decades, with data now showing that one out of every 10 people suffer from the problem.

World Hearing Day is held on March 3 each year to raise awareness on how to prevent deafness and hearing loss and promote ear and hearing care across the world. 

This year’s theme is ‘Hearing care for all’.

In a report yet to be launched by the WHO, the agency warns that more than 700 million people will require access to ear and hearing care and other rehabilitation services by 2050 unless action is taken.

Data shows that more than 600,000 Kenyans cannot hear properly and many more might lose their sense of hearing due to extremely noise-polluted environments in their work place and in public transport vehicles that play loud music in spite of prohibitive laws. 

Starkey Hearing Technologies Africa senior audiologist Dr Pulane Jonkomane says hearing loss can occur at any phase of life with some causes of hearing loss being specific to the age at which it occurs while others are common throughout an individual’s lifespan.

They are divided into two: congenital hearing loss and acquired hearing loss.

“Congenital hearing loss occurs in the course of a mother’s pregnancy or during birth. Factors attributed to congenital hearing loss include but are not limited to genetics, high blood pressure during pregnancy and drugs and alcohol abuse during pregnancy,” Jonkomane said.

According to the medic, other risk factors include premature birth, low birth weight, jaundice, infections such as rubella or herpes simplex, trauma during pregnancy, excessive noise exposure during pregnancy, treatment with certain medications, birth complications such as low oxygen and head injuries during birth.

Acquired hearing loss on the other hand occurs after birth, during childhood or any phase of adulthood and can be attributed to excessive noise exposure, infections of the ear, excessive wax build-up and the natural process of aging.

“With the current Covid-19 pandemic, talks are already on going in the hearing health fraternity if hearing loss could also be added to the consequences of the virus,” the medic said.

Senior business development manager at Starkey Christine Osicho said despite the alarming data, hearing loss can be prevented by avoiding the trigger factors and managed using hearing devices.

“Identification of hearing loss can be performed at any age and the sooner appropriate intervention is provided the better the outcomes for the management of hearing loss,” Osicho said.

In order to ensure that hearing loss is noticed as early as possible, all people should check their hearing from time to time, especially those who are at a higher risk of hearing loss.

They include people who often listen to loud music, work in noisy places, and use medicines that are harmful to hearing, or who are above 60-years-old.

In Kenya, the People with Disability Act 2003 requires all public broadcasting stations to incorporate sign language in their television programmes including news, talk shows, documentaries and educational programmes. In 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta assented to the law that paved way for the incorporation of sign language in television programmes, especially news.

According to the Health ministry, half the hearing loss cases can be prevented with early intervention. But this has been impracticable as Kenya is also faced with the shortage of specialists to diagnose ear problems.

There are only 75 ENT surgeons against more than 45 million Kenyans, well short of the WHO’s recommendation of at least a 1:50,000 ratio.

Dr Richard Mwangi is a Consultant Audiologist at IncusEar Hearing and E.N.T Centre says hearing health is one of the forgotten areas.

“Other disabilities like blindness can be pointed out but hearing is so hidden to identify. It is the reason that you find many people take long to seek help and end up stigmatised about their hearing health,” Mwangi said.

The WHO says lack of accurate information and stigmatising attitudes to ear diseases and hearing loss often limit people from accessing care for these conditions adding that even among health-care providers, there’s often a shortage of knowledge about prevention, early identification and management of hearing loss and ear diseases, hampering their ability to provide the care required.

"Our ability to hear is precious. Untreated hearing loss can have a devastating impact on people’s ability to communicate, to study and to earn a living. It can also impact on people’s mental health and their ability to sustain relationships," the WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

-Edited by Sarah Kanyara