Published on: 18 June 2015

What is hearing loss?

Hearing loss is a sudden or gradual decrease in how well you can hear. Depending on the cause, it can be mild or severe, temporary or permanent.

What is hearing loss?

It is one of the most common conditions affecting older and elderly adults. If you have hearing loss, you may not be aware of it, especially if it has happened over time. Your family members or friends may notice that you're having trouble understanding what others are saying. Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor's advice, to respond to warnings, and to hear doorbells and alarms. It can also make it hard to enjoy talking with friends and family. All of this can be frustrating, embarrassing, and even dangerous.

Hearing loss is different from visual impairment

As with the eye, the ear’s performance is affected by ageing. However, bad vision gradually makes reading harder as the letters get smaller, but hearing loss is different. Hearing loss can make certain syllables and sounds harder to hear. For example, high-pitched consonants like f, s and t are easily drowned out by louder, low-pitched vowels like a, o and u.

The Prevalence and Incidence of Hearing Loss in Adults

In 2012 the World Health Organization released new estimates on the magnitude of disabling hearing loss. The estimates are based on 42 population-based studies. Estimates are as follow:

  • Over 5% of the world’s population – 360 million people – has disabling hearing loss (328 million adults and 32 million children). Disabling hearing loss refers to hearing loss greater than 40 decibels (dB) in the better hearing ear in adults and a hearing loss greater than 30 dB in the better hearing ear in children. The majority of people with disabling hearing loss live in low- and middle-income countries.
  • Approximately one-third of people over 65 years of age are affected by disabling hearing loss. The prevalence in this age group is greatest in South Asia, Asia Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa.

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