Ordinarily, hearing loss is considered to be a problem that impacts our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. Personal. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when thought about in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health topic.
Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. So as a society, we need to think about how to handle it.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Williams job performance, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also stops venturing out. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William isolates himself.
With time, these decisions add up for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Overall, 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 narrative because it ripples through the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are suffering due to his social isolation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William may miss his friends or lament his economic situation), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be performed by his family. Over-all, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him quite significantly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Handle Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are a couple of fairly simple ways to help this particular public health issue: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated properly (typically through the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be fairly dramatic:
- You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
- It will be easier to participate in countless social activities if you can hear better.
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote good health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that a lot more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information strategies seek to give people the facts they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.
You can get apps that will monitor noise levels and caution you when they get too loud. One way to have a huge effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Certain states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s an approach founded on strong research and good public health policy. When we alter our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically impact public health for the good.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.