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 health. It’s a personal, private subject. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader perspective, 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 of as something that has an impact on society as a whole. We need to think about how to manage it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also stops going out. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.
These decisions will add up over time.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it has a ripple effect through the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming tense because of this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue
While these costs will certainly be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), they also have an effect on everyone else. 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. Over-all, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him rather profoundly.
Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.
How to Treat Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are two fairly easy ways to improve this particular public health issue: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated properly (usually by the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social functions if you can hear better.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
Promoting good mental and physical health starts with dealing with your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information strategies aim at giving people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But even common noises can cause hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s a strategy founded on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we alter our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically affect public health for the good.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.