We normally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. Personal. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.
That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on all of society. We should think about how to deal with it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the recommendations of his hearing professional). Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also stops going out. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.
Over time, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a result of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it ripples through the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His relationships are suffering because of his social isolation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. This puts further tension on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may miss his friends or lament his economic situation), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local stores. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. His health can be affected overall and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him rather significantly.
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.
Treating Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are a couple of fairly easy ways to help this particular public health concern: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed effectively (normally by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many day-to-day social facets of your life.
- You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
- Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with managing your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that a lot more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
Prevention is equally as important. Insight about how to protect your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in numerous public health ads. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
You can get apps that will keep track of noise levels and caution you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a huge impact.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. We can considerably affect public health once and for all when we adjust our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.