Clearly, hearing loss is more than an inconvenience. Like all ailments, difficulties with hearing take a personal and public toll. But while experts have calculated the costs to society of various health concerns, such as heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, no one tallies the economic costs of hearing loss. If we added up hearing-loss-related costs—errors made, the time spent correcting them, faulty products that have to be discarded and redone, information that never reaches the right destination, all creating delays, additional expenditures, overtime charges, and so on—it's safe to assume that the grand total would easily reach billions of dollars every year. The U.S. Navy alone estimates its own costs related to noise-induced hearing loss at approximately $1 billion annually, a mind-numbing figure, and further proof that this is a problem that has reached epidemic proportions.
While we may never know exactly how much money hearing loss is leaching from our economy, we do know a few things:
According to an in-depth study published in the International Journal of Technology Assessment in Health Care 2000, between 500,000 and 750,000 Americans suffer from severe to profound hearing loss, which costs society nearly $300,000 per person during each individual's life. The grand total is well into the trillions of dollars.
The earlier hearing loss is diagnosed, the more costly it is. Expenditures for social services, specialized education, and treatment of a hearing-impaired child can easily run as high as $1 million over that child's lifetime.
Hearing difficulty is the second most common complaint (after arthritis) reported to doctors by elderly patients.
It has been estimated that nearly 13 percent of all soldiers being sent home from Operation Iraqi Freedom are suffering from hearing-related trauma. Furthermore, about one-fourth of America's combat personnel develop significant hearing loss, and the condition is now one of the top ten disabilities for Veterans Affairs.
As serious as the economic cost of hearing loss may be, it cannot compete with the emotional toll. People who live with diminished hearing and those who share their lives—as spouses and partners, co-workers, friends, relatives, clients, and neighbors—consider hearing loss emotionally devastating.
The importance of maintaining a quiet community is becoming recognized all over the country. Neighbors of the Michigan State Fairgrounds near Detroit, for example, successfully fought plans for an Indy-style auto racing track that would have funneled millions of dollars into the area. Why? They were opposed to the noise that would have been generated by the race cars and added traffic to the area. Similarly, in New York City, where noise is a serious problem, city officials are cracking down on noise polluters with a new noise code, designed to incorporate high-tech acoustic technology and update sections of the existing code.