Generally, hearing loss is thought of as a challenge that influences our personal life. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. Private. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health topic.
That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an effect on society as a whole. We should consider how to manage it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William just found out last week he has hearing loss and against the suggestion of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also stops going out. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.
These choices will have a cumulative effect after a while.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect throughout the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His relationships are suffering because of his social separation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts additional tension on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While on an individual level these costs will certainly be felt (William might be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an impact on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local merchants because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Overall, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed down to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, those around William are effected quite significantly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Treat Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health problem can be addressed in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated properly (normally by using hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the demands of your job.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social activities if you can hear better.
- With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
Promoting good mental and physical health starts with treating your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information strategies seek to give people the information they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even lead to hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a huge impact.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. 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 dramatically impact public health for the good.
And everybody is helped by that.