Usually, hearing loss is considered to be a challenge that influences our personal life. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health issue.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. So as a society, we need to consider how to handle it.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time following along in meetings, etc.
He also stops venturing out. It’s just too frustrating trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.
These choices will add up after a while.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by 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 only the beginning of the narrative because it ripples throughout the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His relationships are struggling because of his social separation. 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. This puts added stress on their relationships.
Why is it a Public Health Concern?
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local retailers. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. As a whole, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him quite profoundly.
You can get a sense 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 particular health issue can be managed in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (usually by using hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:
- You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the demands of your job.
- Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to participate in many day-to-day social aspects of your life.
Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with managing your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies aim at giving people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even lead to 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 through education.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Certain states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s a strategy based on strong research and good public health policy. We can significantly affect public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And everyone is helped by that.