Hearing impairment is common but also one of the most neglected physical impairments. Many surveys show that one out of ten people suffers from hearing loss and would benefit from using hearing aids. Nobody knows the exact number of hearing impaired people, but most estimates set the figure around 500 million people. In Europe, 70 million people are hearing impaired, and in North America the figure is estimated to be around 30 million. In developing countries the burden of hearing impairments is estimated to be twice as large as in developed countries, probably because of a lot of untreated ear infections. At the same time, in the developed countries, people suffer from hearing loss at younger and younger ages primarily due to the increased exposure to excessive noise.Causes
One of the major causes of hearing loss is ageing. We all lose our hearing sooner or later. Hearing loss is a natural consequence of getting older. Our hearing ability worsens from our 30s or 40s and onwards and when we reach our 80s, more than half of us suffer from significant hearing loss. Despite that, more than half of all hearing impaired people are of working age. Another common reason for hearing loss is exposure to noise. We live in a noisy world. Noise may come from our work or from voluntary exposure to noise such as noisy motors or loud music at rock concerts, night clubs, discos and from stereos ections or drugs. It may be inherited or be a result of physical damage to the ears or serious injuries to the head.Stigma
Hearing impaired people are subject to much prejudice and misconceptions such as "they are old", "less intelligent", "mentally ill", or "they only hear what they want to hear". Many people also think that hearing aids are ugly, uncomfortable and expensive and do not function optimally.Impact on individual
Surveys show that four out of five, who actually need hearing aids, do not use any. Life quality is affected negatively when hearing impairment is left untreated, according to many studies that have been performed within this area. A hearing impaired person cannot participate in social integration that most commonly consists of oral communication. Instead, the hearing impaired person is left outside the group both at work and in private life.Impact on society
A European study has found the hearing impairment is one of the disabilities that can be treated most inexpensively and with the greatest benefit - for the individual as well as for society. Investigations show that untreated hearing loss is estimated to cost $ 56 billion in the USA and $ 92 billion in the EU - each year (Better Hearing Institute, USA). The cost is constitutes of reduced work productivity within society due to hearing impairment. The American study performed by Better Hearing Institute was performed in 2000. The figures have not been scientifically documented, but are one of few estimates that are available within this area. The costs to society may be reduced substantially if the hearing impaired person receives earlier and better treatment with hearing aids and hearing screenings. Proper rehabilitation programmes to help people stay on in the labour market are also essential.Critical facts for the hearing impaired
Hearing aids are likely to be a good remedy, but there are more critical aspects such as openness and consultancy. If a hearing impaired person is not open about his or her handicap there is no way to live a comfortable life as a hearing impaired person. There is no hearing aid that gives "normal hearing", but thanks to today's technology the result can be much better than it was 10 years ago. The hearing aid itself can do most of the work, but in order to make it function properly (and to choose the most appropriate hearing aid) consultancy is needed. All the three mentioned facts are crucial to improve quality of life for hearing impaired people and to reduce the negative impact of hearing loss.