On March 3, organizations around the world will celebrate World Hearing Day — an annual event sponsored by the World Health Organization that seeks to promote ear and hearing care on a global stage. This year’s theme is “Action for Hearing Loss: Make a Sound Investment.” Unfortunately, when it comes to hearing loss — one of the most prevalent health conditions among Americans — inaction is all too common.

HEARING YOUR BODY: Hearing isn't a singular sense; it affects processes throughout your body including mental health and physical health, even balance, and managing it is vital to quality of life.

A silent problem

Hearing loss frequently goes untreated for years — if it ever is treated. Among adults aged 70 and older with hearing loss, fewer than one in three (30 percent) has ever used hearing aids, according to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders. Even fewer adults aged 20 to 69 (approximately 16 percent) who could benefit from wearing hearing aids have ever used them.

This is problematic for many reasons. Hearing loss can negatively impact quality of life, mental health, physical health and employment success and status. According to survey results from the National Council on Aging, adults with hearing loss who do not wear hearing aids have shown significantly higher rates of depression, anxiety and other psychosocial disorders compared to those who use hearing aids. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found a strong link between degree of hearing loss and risk of developing dementia.

In terms of economic impact, a 2016 study in the JAMA Otolaryngology Head & Neck Surgery journal found that middle-aged adults with untreated hearing loss had substantially higher medical bills compared with those without hearing loss. Individuals with hearing loss may also leave the workforce earlier than they intend because the hearing loss makes completing their job more difficult, leading to lost wages. Hearing loss can affect almost every aspect of a person’s life.

“Hearing loss is a chronic and complex medical condition that affects many body and brain systems.”

Getting heard

Hearing technologies have improved and advanced rapidly over the past few decades. Many people have outdated perceptions of hearing aids that prevent or delay their seeking treatment. Hearing aids are more effective than ever before. When considering the cost of treatment, individuals should also consider the broader costs of non-treatment. Although Medicare does not cover hearing aids, some private insurers cover a portion of hearing aid costs.

While technology has vastly improved, it is important that patients understand the complexity of treating hearing loss and the importance of seeking professional treatment. Hearing loss is a chronic and complex medical condition that affects many body and brain systems. Treatment requires a comprehensive assessment of a patient’s needs, as well as professional counseling and aural rehabilitation provided by certified audiologists to ensure successful adaptation to hearing technology. Hearing aids often require significant fine-tuning to address the patient’s unique hearing profile.

If you think you or a loved one may be experiencing hearing loss, don’t delay. Seek an assessment from a certified audiologist right away.