Hearing Loss is a severe condition that has a multifaceted impact on the individual’s growth and development. It can lead to isolation and loneliness and can also significantly reduce the quality of life. As per the WHO, nearly 430 million people (representing over 5% of the world’s population) require rehabilitation to address their ‘disabling’ hearing loss, including 432 million adults and 34 million children. A significant proportion of the people with hearing loss live in low- and middle-income countries, which account for nearly 80% of the population. By 2050, over 700 million people, that is, one in every ten people globally will have disabling hearing loss.

How does hearing loss affect your life?

Hearing loss can have a serious impact on the daily life of the person. At a young age, the person may face severe speech and language skills issues at school and social environment. The learning process hampers psychosocial development greatly and reduced self-esteem & confidence. 

Due to disrupted interpersonal communication at a growing age, in later life, the person may have fewer educational and job opportunities. Similarly, the impact of social withdrawal, loneliness, stigma, and their effects on emotional health can’t be neglected. The person may also have health complications such as headaches, irritability, anger, muscle tension, increased stress, tiredness, and blood pressure levels regularly. Some studies have also suggested that hearing loss is strongly associated with depression.

How serious is the hearing loss problem?

The hearing loss issue is growing day by day due to various reasons. As per the WHO, “over 1 billion young adults are at risk of permanent, avoidable hearing loss due to unsafe listening practices”. In the United States, about 2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.

Apart from hereditary causes, age is one of the significant factors for hearing loss. The most common type of hearing loss is presbycusis (or age-related hearing loss). In presbycusis, a gradual loss of hearing in both ears occurs with age, and it is observed that it mainly affects people above the age of 65 years. In recent times it is noted that many young adults are also getting severely affected. The loud noise is one of the primary reasons that affect the sensitive inner-ear cells. Exposure to high levels of noise due to the use of hearing devices like earbuds, occupational noises, and recreational noises contribute significantly to hearing loss in the younger population, which can remarkably increase the burden. 

What is the economic impact of hearing loss?

Hearing loss can impact professional life and productivity with limited opportunities and scope for future growth. At the macro level, the unaddressed hearing loss is directly associated with billions of dollars of excess costs that impact the country’s healthcare system and the economy. As per the WHO, “unaddressed hearing loss poses an annual global cost of US$ 980 billion”. The cost is likely to increase in the coming years due to the rising prevalence. Similarly, as per a systematic review on “The Economic Impact of Adult Hearing Loss” by Matthew G. Huddle, “in the United States, the economic cost of lost productivity varied from $1.8 to $194 billion, and direct medical costs ranged from $3.3 to $12.8 billion”.

What are the most common types of hearing loss?

As per the specific location in the ear, the hearing loss can be divided into three categories: Conductive Hearing Loss, Sensorineural Hearing Loss, and Mixed Hearing Loss. Conductive hearing loss occurs due to problems with the ear canal, eardrum, or middle ear and its little bones (the malleus, incus, and stapes). Similarly, Sensorineural Hearing Loss is due to inner ear problems, also known as nerve-related hearing loss. The mixed hearing loss is caused by a combination of conductive damage in the outer or middle ear and sensorineural damage in the inner ear (cochlea) or auditory nerve. As per the disease type, Auditory Neuropathy, Aural Rehabilitation, Balance Disorders, Noise-Induced Hearing Loss, Otosclerosis, Sudden Deafness, Ménière’s Disease, Tinnitus are some other most common hearing loss diseases. 

What are the Treatment Options for Hearing Loss?

Hearing loss is preventable with some suitable strategies. Due to advancements in technology, several techniques are available to detect hearing loss at the earliest stage of development and also to address it with a wide range of interventions. As per the WHO, “an annual additional investment of less than US$ 1.40 per person is needed to scale up ear and hearing care services globally”. However, a lack of knowledge and resources are the primary reasons for the rising burden, especially in developing countries. 

Some of the most common types of hearing loss treatments include – 

Medications

Medications and surgery are generally recommended for several types of hearing problems. For some frequent ear infections, antibiotic pills or drops are a standard treatment option. In some cases, steroids are also used to treat inflammation or sudden hearing loss. Most of the medications are delivered directly to the ear. 

Hearing Devices 

If the hearing loss is not improved with Medications, the physician may prescribe Hearing Aids or other assistive listening devices upon evaluation. Hearing Devices amplify sound in the ear and improve overall hearing. The hearing devices come in various sizes, shapes and styles. These devices dominate the hearing loss treatment market. Hearing Devices are classified as hearing aids and cochlear implants.

The hearing devices segment can be further split into behind-the-ear (BTE), in the ear (ITE), receiver in the canal (RIC), completely in the canal (CIC), others (invisible in the canal). Among the different types of hearing aids, the behind-the-ear (BTE) is one of the most progressive segments with the highest demand and accounting for a very high growth rate. Behind-the-ear (BTE) devices are expected to drive the Hearing Devices market growth in the coming years.

Some of the key companies in the hearing aid device market include Audina Hearing Instruments, Elkon, WS Audiology, Eargo, Horente,  Austar Hearing Science and Technology, Lively Hearing Corporation, Audifon, Foshan Vohom Technology, ZOUNDS Hearing, SeboTek Hearing Systems, Arphi Electronics, IN4 Technology Corporation, Nano Hearing Aids, LORECa, Earlens Corporation, Sonova Group, Demant, GN Store Nord A/S, Cochlear Ltd., RION Co., Ltd., Starkey, Nurotron Biotechnology, MED-EL, and several others. 

In case the hearing aids are no longer beneficial, a cochlear implant is used to restore hearing due to inner ear damage. Cochlear implants are unique electronic devices and are available for use in children and adults suffering from deafness or severe hearing impairment. 

Over the past few years, several Cochlear implants have been approved by health agencies, including FDA. As per the estimates based on manufacturers’ voluntary reports of registered devices to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, as of December 2019, nearly 736,900 cochlear implants have been implanted worldwide. In the United States, around 118,100 devices have been implanted in adults and 65,000 in children. 

Some of the key players in the Cochlear implants market includes MED-EL, Sonova, William Demant, Nurotron Biotechnology,  Cochlear Ltd., Shlst, and several others. Favourable reimbursement scenario for cochlear implant surgical process and therapy is the major driver for the high demand for cochlear implants. However, the risk associated with surgical implant procedures, lack of skilled professionals, and the high cost of hearing implants (especially in developing countries) are majorly hampering the cochlear implant market growth

Surgical Procedures 

Surgical options are also available in case of extensive damage to the middle or outer ear. In Surgical procedures, ear reconstruction through Tympanoplasty, Stapedotomy, Aural Atresia Repair, Ossicular Chain Reconstruction, and others are conducted to improve and restore the hearing. 

What lies ahead

With the early prevention strategies, raising awareness on hearing health, active screening programmes, and the use of hearing devices, the global burden of hearing loss can be reduced significantly. Similarly to address the hearing loss burden, the governments at their end can formulate the policy to allocate resources and plan strategies to promote access to ear and hearing care.

Several factors such as technological development in the hearing aid, increasing awareness about various hearing devices & implants, growth in funding and investment, and the rising geriatric population are expected to stimulate the global hearing aids market growth in the coming years. Similarly, the incorporation of artificial intelligence, the development of digital innovative hearing devices that can connect with other assistive devices, and the increasing number of product approvals will also impact the demand and growth.