Ordinarily, hearing loss is looked at as a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.
That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on society as a whole. We should think about how to manage it as a society.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job efficiency; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also spends a lot more time at home alone. It’s just too stressful trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.
After a while, these decisions add up for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just 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 miss! His relationships are struggling because of his social separation. His friends could think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts added strain on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Problem
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William may be having a difficult time socially and economically), they also have an impact on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be done by his family. His health can be impacted overall and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those costs 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 can get an idea of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.
How to Treat Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are a couple of fairly simple ways to improve this particular public health issue: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (usually via the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- With management of hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your chances of several linked conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- You’ll have a much easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many everyday social areas of your life.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good 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 hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in many public health commercials. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor 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 effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Certain states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we alter our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health in a positive way.
And everybody is helped by that.