Ordinarily, hearing loss is thought of as an issue that impacts our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when regarded in a larger perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health concern.
That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an impact on all of society. So as a society, we need to think about how to handle it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Williams job performance, sadly, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also stops venturing out. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates rather than going out.
These choices will add up as time passes.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it ripples throughout the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. This puts added stress on their relationships.
Why is it a Public Health Problem?
While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William might be having a hard time economically and socially), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. His health can be affected as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, people around William are impacted quite profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Treat Hearing Loss
Luckily, this specific health issue can be treated in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is managed effectively (normally by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- It will be easier to engage in many social activities if you’re able to hear better.
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
Encouraging good mental and physical health begins with treating your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Insight about how to protect your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in many public health ads. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a huge effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy founded on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically impact public health for the good.
And everyone is helped by that.