Normally, hearing loss is thought of as an issue that affects our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a personal, private subject. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when considered in a larger perspective, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health topic.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. We need to think about how to handle it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and against the suggestion of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also spends much more time at home alone. It’s just too frustrating trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.
These decisions will have a cumulative effect after a while.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it ripples through the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His relationships are struggling because of his social separation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William may be having a difficult time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be done by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed along to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, those 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.
Managing Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health problem can be managed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (normally through the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- With treatment for hearing loss, you might be able to help lower your risk of several linked conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you can hear better.
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 taking care of 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 facts they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even common noises can cause hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often via education) is one way to have a huge impact.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach based on strong research and strong public health policy. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And everybody is helped by that.