Ordinarily, hearing loss is looked at as a challenge that affects our personal life. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health concern.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We need to think about how to handle it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William has hearing impairment. He just learned last week and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job efficiency; 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 alone. It’s just too frustrating to keep up with all the layers of conversation (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William isolates himself.
These decisions will accumulate over time.
- 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 magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the beginning because the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They could be getting the wrong idea about his attitude towards them. This puts added strain on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Problem
While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also impacted. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local stores. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. Overall, his health can become affected 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.
Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
Treating Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are two pretty simple ways to help this particular public health issue: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (normally through the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
- It will be easier to engage in many social functions if you’re able to hear better.
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
Promoting good mental and physical health starts with dealing with your hearing loss. An increasing number of 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 facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even lead to hearing loss.
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 effective way (often via education) is one way to have a huge impact.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Certain states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s a strategy based on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically impact public health for the good.
And everybody is helped by that.