There are an estimated 1.1 billion people living with hearing loss worldwide. The global burden is unequally distributed, with up to 80% of these individuals living in low- and middle-income countries. Hearing loss has lifelong social, health, and economic effects, including increased risk of speech and language delays in early childhood and decreased school performance in school-aged children. Adults with hearing loss are more likely to be low income, unemployed, or underemployed, and older adults are at increased risk for dementia and physical and cognitive decline. Deepening our understanding of the societal impact of hearing loss is critical, particularly in low resource settings and underserved populations where the burden is high and has not been well studied. From a policy perspective, defining the impact of hearing loss gives governments and health systems motivation to tackle preventable hearing loss and build the infrastructure for expanding access to hearing healthcare. Our studies address hearing loss through a multifaceted approach, with prevention, diagnosis, and treatment each playing an important role in reducing global disparities in hearing health. Vital to our approach is collaboration with partners around the world and application of mobile health technology that brings hearing assessment to the people, no matter how remote the village. To learn more about our work exploring the impact of hearing loss, click here.
Fundamental to preventing hearing loss is understanding why it is more common in low resource settings and which risk factors for hearing loss may be modifiable in these environments. One region of the world that has particularly high prevalence of hearing loss is south Asia, where childhood undernutrition is still common. We are seeking to understand the role of early life malnutrition in risk of hearing loss. To learn more, click here.
Much of the global burden of hearing loss is secondary to treatable conditions such as ear infections. Screening programs that identify treatable hearing loss and link affected individuals to care are therefore critical for reducing hearing health disparities. Access to audiologists and specialists has traditionally been limited in low resource settings, necessitating an out-of-the box approach that utilizes new technology to bridge geographical barriers between patients and providers. Through a Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI)-funded study, we are exploring the use of mobile health screening tools and telemedicine referral to improve school hearing screening in rural Alaskan villages near the Bering Sea. To learn more about this project, visit Hearing Norton Sound.
Cochlear implantation has been considered by many a high-resource treatment for severe to profound hearing loss due to high cost and need for therapy and lifetime audiology support. Working with audiology, otolaryngology, and speech therapy collaborators from around the world, we have shown that cochlear implantation can be a cost-effective management strategy even in low resource settings, opening the potential for expansion of access to the technology. To learn more, click here.