World Hearing Day, initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO), is celebrated every year on March 3. Its purpose is to raise awareness about the prevention of deafness and hearing loss and to promote hearing prevention worldwide. In recent years, more and more Member States and partner agencies are joining World Hearing Day by organizing activities and events in their countries. According to a recent WHO study, more than 1.5 billion people live with hearing loss, nearly 430 million of them with disabling hearing loss. Most of them live in low- and middle-income countries and often have no access to necessary and primary medical care. Untreated hearing loss is a leading cause of disability and generates an annual cost of $980 billion worldwide.
This year the large-scale campaign is carried out under the slogan “Ear and hearing care for all.” This is because, according to the WHO’s estimates, by 2050, nearly 2.5 billion people will have a hearing loss of various kinds, of which at least 700 million will require rehabilitation. Failure to act now will therefore generate immense costs in terms of ensuring the well-being of those affected, resulting in significant financial losses caused by communication, educational, and social issues (e.g., employment).
In 2022, the WHO published another World Hearing Report, highlighting the growing number of people living with and at risk of hearing loss. Prof. Henryk Skarżyński, Director of the Institute of Physiology and Pathology of Hearing and a founding member of the World Hearing Forum at the WHO, notes that the figures could be much higher due to the growing scale of hearing damage in Covid-19 patients.
– The situation has been changing exceptionally dynamically over the past 3 years. – Prof. H. Skarżyński emphasizes. – At the pandemic’s beginning, hearing disorders were similar to those suffered by patients undergoing upper respiratory tract infections. Mucosal lesions in the nose, nasopharynx, auditory tubes and exudative lesions in the middle ear contributed to progressive hearing loss, the aftermath of swelling and fluid retained in the middle ears. As the catarrh and sinusitis resolved, the ear lesions usually also receded, and patients regained hearing. It was most noticeable in children who had already been ill and underwent subsequent throat or nose infections. We are now dealing with the so-called postcovid syndrome with a long list of symptoms. Many patients complain of annoying voice or hearing problems that make them less functional – they have problems in everyday life and at work. Postcovid syndrome can affect the communicative process, that is, how we speak, hear, and use our voice. The most common symptoms, such as coughing, breathing problems, neuralgias, tinnitus, cognitive impairment, and less common long-term complications, such as voice or hearing impairment, make daily communication difficult. In other patients, we can observe postcovid unilateral or bilateral hearing loss following the permanent damage to inner ear function. Many such cases even resulted in complete unilateral or bilateral deafness, requiring surgical intervention. – Prof. H. Skarżyński adds.
According to multicenter studies, COVID-19-related hearing disorders are caused by damage done to auditory nerve cells by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Researchers point to a similar damage mechanism as in smallpox or HIV, which causes infection to the central nervous system or damage to auditory cells of the inner ear that are sensitive to hypoxia caused by changes in blood vessels. Diagnosis of postcovid hearing disorders is based on audiological tests.
However, looking at the bright side, Polish patients have – as the first, or among the first in the world – access to all the state-of-the-art technologies and global pioneer clinical procedures. Specialists at the World Hearing Center can help almost anyone, returning them from silence, loneliness, and isolation. For more than 20 years, the Center has been home to the largest number of hearing-improving surgeries in the world. Last year, the largest number of hearing implant surgeries worldwide were performed in patients with different types of deafness.