We tend to think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. Personal. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health concern.
Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be considering 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 just found out last week he has hearing loss and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the advice 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 stops going out. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he self isolates rather than going out.
These choices will have a cumulative effect as time passes.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a result of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it ripples throughout the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His relationships are harmed due to his social isolation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While these costs will certainly be felt on an individual level (William might be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local stores because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be carried out by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, people around William are impacted quite significantly.
You can get a sense of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
Treating Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are two fairly easy ways to improve this particular public health concern: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (normally by using hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
- With management of hearing loss, you might be able to help lower 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’re able to hear better.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote good 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 consider prevention. Information about how to safeguard your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in numerous public health advertisements. But even common noises can result in hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
You can download apps that will monitor noise levels and alert you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a huge impact.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can considerably impact public health once and for all when we change our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And everyone is helped by that.