We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. Private. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We should consider how to manage it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the guidance of his hearing professional). Williams job performance, sadly, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends significantly more time at home by himself. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself rather than going out.
With time, these choices accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect through the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His relationships are harmed due to his social isolation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?
While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, people around William are impacted quite profoundly.
Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you can get an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
Treating Hearing Loss
The good news is, this particular health problem can be treated in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed effectively (usually by the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- You’ll have an easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social activities if you’re able to hear better.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
- With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your risk of several connected conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
Promoting good physical and mental health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the information they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can lead to hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often via education) is one way to have a big effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Certain 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 in a positive way.
And everybody is helped by that.