We normally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. Personal. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when thought about in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We should 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 against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, regrettably, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also spends lots more time at home alone. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he self isolates rather than going out.
These decisions will add up over time.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social separation 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 might be getting the wrong idea about his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue
While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), they also have an influence on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be carried out by his family. His health can be affected overall and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, people around William are impacted quite significantly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are two fairly straight forward ways to improve this particular public health concern: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (normally by using hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- It will be easier to participate in countless social functions if you’re able to hear better.
- You’ll have a much easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
- With management of hearing loss, you might be able to help lower your chances of several connected conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the information they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a big impact 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 altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we change our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically impact public health for the good.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.