Normally, hearing loss is considered to be an issue that impacts our personal life. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when considered in a larger perspective, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health topic.
That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an impact on all of society. So as a society, we should think about how to handle it.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the recommendations of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job efficiency; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also stops going out. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.
Over time, these choices accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be a consequence 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 level of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect throughout the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His relationships are struggling because of his social separation. 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 on an individual level these costs will definitely be felt (William may be having a hard time economically and socially), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be carried out by his family. Over-all, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, people 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 look at hearing loss very seriously.
How to Handle Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are a couple of fairly straight forward ways to improve this particular public health problem: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (typically by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many daily social aspects of your life.
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- With management of hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Information about how to safeguard your ears from loud harmful noise can be found in many public health advertisements. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.
You can get apps that will monitor sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
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. We can dramatically affect public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And everybody is helped by that.