Normally, hearing loss is thought of as a problem that impacts our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a personal, private subject. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health issue.
That simply means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on society as a whole. We should consider how to deal with it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William has hearing loss. He just learned last week and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also stops venturing out. It’s just too frustrating trying to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William isolates himself.
After a while, these decisions accumulate for William.
- 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 magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are harmed because of his social isolation. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They could be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William may be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be performed by his family. Overall, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, people around William are effected quite significantly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Luckily, this specific health problem can be treated in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (typically via the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- You’ll have an easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your chances of several linked conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- It will be easier to engage in many social functions if you can hear better.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that a lot more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can cause hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
You can download apps that will monitor sound levels and caution you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often via education) is one way to have a huge impact.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s an approach founded on strong evidence and good public health policy. We can considerably affect public health once and for all when we alter our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.