Generally, hearing loss is thought of as a challenge that affects our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But when considering hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health concern.
That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an effect on society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to deal with it.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also stops venturing out. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.
These decisions will accumulate as time passes.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is only the beginning of the story because it has a ripple effect throughout the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William is missing his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming tense because of this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Overall, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed down to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him quite significantly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
Treating Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health issue can be managed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (typically by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to participate in many daily social areas of your life.
- With management of hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your risk of several connected conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s just as important to think of prevention. Public information campaigns seek to give people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a huge impact.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we change our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly affect public health for the good.
And everybody is helped by that.