Typically, hearing loss is considered to be an issue that influences our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health topic.
That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an impact on society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to deal with it.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job execution, regrettably, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder 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 simply 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 isolates himself.
These choices will have a cumulative effect after a while.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $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 misses his family and friends! His social isolation is costing him relationships. 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. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While these costs will definitely be felt on an individual level (William might be having a hard time economically and socially), they also have an influence on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be done by his family. His health can be affected overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him rather significantly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
Managing Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are two pretty simple ways to help this specific public health problem: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (usually via the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
- It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you can hear better.
- You’ll have an easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s just as important to think of prevention. Public information campaigns seek to give people the insight they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
You can download apps that will keep track of sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy founded on strong research and strong public health policy. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we change our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.