Hearing health

Hearing loss is a major public health problem requiring urgent action: one in six of the UK population (equivalent to 11 million people) lives with hearing loss. This makes hearing loss the most common sort of sensory loss, affecting peoples’ ability to communicate and function in society.

The World Health Organisation has identified hearing loss as the second leading cause of years lived with disability. Hearing loss increases social isolation and substantially increases the risk of suffering from depression. Recent evidence has shown hearing loss in mid-life is associated with increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia.

NHS routine data related to hearing loss takes several forms, including: 

  1. records of the adoption of measures and provision of advice for the prevention of hearing loss
  2. newborn hearing screening records about the detection of hearing loss at birth
  3. results of audiometric assessments used to inform the diagnosis of hearing loss
  4. data on the provision, maintenance, and use of hearing devices, including hearing aids and auditory implants, for the management of hearing loss and to reduce its impact

While prevention is better than cure there is little understanding of why some people get hearing loss while others do not. A clearer understanding of this process could help develop bespoke preventative strategies for individual patients.

Not everyone who could benefit from a hearing device uses one, and those individuals who do receive a hearing device don’t always persist in using them or get the expected benefits. Modern hearing devices now offer the opportunity to collect usage data which in turn, could be used to improve individual management strategies as well as wider clinical practice. Broadening the treatment of hearing loss, based on the discovery of new therapeutic targets and techniques, offers the prospect of protecting and restoring hearing.

Advancing the prevention, detection, diagnosis, and management of hearing loss will be greatly aided by the availability and integration of routinely collected multifaceted health data of patients with hearing loss from across the NHS.

Aims of the theme:

The aim of the Hearing theme is to make better use of patient health data captured in NHS records by collecting data in a standardised and integrated manner across UK sites and setting up a structure for sharing and analysing these data anonymously. These new assemblies of data will allow the growth of more effective management strategies for individuals with hearing loss. The Hearing theme will develop the infrastructure and governance for the management and integration of this hearing health data. This will allow for:

  1. Exploration of the effects of known and novel risk factors such as disease clustering for hearing loss.
  2. Identification of the genetic causes of hearing loss
  3. Definition of hearing loss sub-types
  4. Identification of candidates who would benefit from upcoming clinical trials
  5. Optimisation of patient benefit from individualised treatment strategies

Lead centres:

Manchester University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust

Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust

University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust