We normally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when regarded in a larger perspective, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health issue.
That simply means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on society as a whole. We need to think about how to deal with it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the recommendations of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s begun 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 by himself. It’s just too frustrating trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.
These decisions will have a cumulative effect over time.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are harmed because of his social separation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. This puts additional stress on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While on an individual level these costs will certainly be felt (William may be having a hard time economically and socially), they also have an effect on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local stores because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be impacted overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those costs get passed on to the public. And so, people around William are effected quite profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
Managing Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are a couple of fairly straight forward ways to improve this specific public health problem: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed effectively (usually by using hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your risk of several connected conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social activities if you can hear better.
- You’ll have an easier time managing the demands of your job.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
Encouraging good physical and mental health starts with treating your hearing loss. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can lead to hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
You can get apps that will keep track of sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. When we alter our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically impact public health in a positive way.
And everyone is helped by that.