We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. Private. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when regarded in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health concern.
That simply means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on all of society. We need to consider how to deal with it as a society.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William has hearing impairment. 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 recommendations of his hearing specialist). Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends a lot more time at home by himself. It’s just too frustrating trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.
After a while, these decisions add up for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be a result of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is only the beginning of the story because it ripples through the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are suffering because of his social isolation. His friends might think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. This puts additional stress on their relationships.
Why is it a Public Health Concern?
While on an individual level these costs will certainly be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local stores. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be affected as a whole and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those costs get passed on to the public. And so, those around William are effected rather profoundly.
You can get a sense of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Luckily, this specific health problem can be treated in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (typically by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the demands of your job.
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many everyday social facets of your life.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the information they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even common noises can result in hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
You can download apps that will keep track of sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we change our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically impact public health in a positive way.
And everyone is helped by that.