Every year, on April 7, the world (or at least, those who are aware of the event) celebrates global health awareness. This day of recognition was first held in 1950 and has been loyally sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO) since its birth; in part, because it is also a celebration of the organization’s founding and its focus on global health.
Each year, World Health Day adopts a specific theme related to world health. During the last five years, it has devoted the day to bringing awareness of some of our most complex and concerning global health problems, including:
This year’s World Health Day is devoted to increasing the awareness for preventing hearing loss and deafness, including early identification and intervention.
Prevalence of Hearing Loss
Hearing loss doesn’t often garner a lot of attention, but is more prevalent than many may assume. According to the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD), “Hearing loss is defined as when the average threshold across four speech frequencies (0.5–1–2–4 kHz) is greater than 25 decibels hearing level. A loss of 25 decibels in the speech frequency range is equal to very soft speech in a quiet room.” An analysis reported in 2016 in JAMA Otolaryngology indicated that hearing loss increases with age, and an average of 25 percent of the US population experiences hearing loss by the time they are 60 years old. Nearly 80 percent of adults have hearing loss by the time they are 85 years old, leading to social withdrawal and isolation.
Hearing loss isn’t just a natural result of aging. Nearly “2 to 3 out of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable level of hearing loss in one or both ears.” Although age-related hearing may be at its worse in our 60s, 14 percent of adults between the ages of 20 and 60 report a drop in their ability to hear.
Causes of Hearing Loss
A loss of hearing can be rooted in multiple causes.
In children, hearing loss is often classified as sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL), conductive hearing loss (CHL) or mixed hearing loss (MHL). CHL hearing loss may be in the outer, middle, or inner ear and be triggered by numerous infections, foreign bodies, wax and effusion, trauma, pharmaceuticals, noise-induced, comorbid health conditions, and some cases are simply, idiopathic. SNHL is most often idiopathic.
In adults, chronic infections often contribute to hearing loss. These infections could be past and/or current cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), cytomegalovirus (CMV), herpes simplex (HSV), mumps, or rubella. The most common cause of age-related SNHL in elderly adults is cochlear degeneration, although trauma and chronic exposure to high-decibel noise from music, a workplace environment, or a recreational shooting range also contribute to age-related hearing loss. Finally, vascular insufficiency stemming from kidney or cardiovascular disease also impact the ability to hear.
Nutrients for Hearing Loss
Various nutrients may be helpful in both preventing and supporting the management of hearing loss. A comprehensive study on the potential correlation between oxidative stress markers and hearing loss indicated an association between disulphide and total oxidant status, and idiopathic sudden sensorineural hearing loss (ISSNHL) when 50 ISSNHL patients were compared with 50 healthy controls. To support the idea that oxidative stress might be associated with hearing loss, a prospective, controlled study compared two groups of patients with ISSNHL treated with either the standard ISSNHL treatment regimen plus antioxidant nutrients including vitamins A, C, and E and selenium, or with only a standard ISSNHL treatment regimen. After 32 months, the treatment group receiving the antioxidants showed hearing gains of 36.2 ± 20.3 dB versus hearing gains of 27.1 ± 20.6 dB in the control group. These results would suggest oxidative stress plays a role in the pathology of hearing loss, making antioxidants a great nutraceutical for supporting a healthy level of hearing. A review published in 2017 also investigated a number of studies which sought to observe the impact of antioxidant supplementation on hearing loss. Although robust human studies were lacking, animal studies showed positive effects and a slowing of the progression of hearing loss with antioxidant supplementation.
On April 7, 2019, take time to consider the value of your sense of hearing. Hearing loss is far more prevalent than we often realize and the possibility of it being another growing health outcome of living a lifestyle that encourages oxidative stress is not unfounded. Therefore, it is also important to be aware of how we can boost our antioxidant intake through fresh vegetables and fruits, as well as supplemental nutrients.