We generally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. Personal. And that’s true, 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.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We should consider how to deal with it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
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. Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.
He also spends significantly more time at home alone. It’s just too challenging 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 decisions will add up as time passes.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social isolation is costing him relationships. 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. This puts added strain on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?
While on an individual level these costs will definitely be felt (William might be having a difficult time socially and economically), everyone else is also impacted. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local retailers. 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 affected and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed down to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him quite profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you can get an idea of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Luckily, this specific health problem can be managed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (usually via the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- You’ll have a much easier time managing the demands of your job.
- It will be easier to participate in many social functions if you’re able to hear better.
- Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
Encouraging good physical and mental health starts with managing your hearing loss. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s equally important to consider prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even lead to hearing loss.
You can download apps that will monitor sound levels and caution you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and effective 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 expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we change our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly affect public health in a positive way.
And everyone is helped by that.