We tend to think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.
Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. We need to consider how to manage it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William just found out last week he has hearing loss and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends lots more time at home by himself. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.
With time, these choices accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are suffering because of 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. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William might be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also impacted. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. Overall, his health can become impacted and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him rather significantly.
You can get a sense of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.
Managing Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are a couple of fairly straight forward ways to improve this specific public health issue: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (usually by wearing hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you’re able to hear better.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. More and more 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. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the information they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even common noises can result in 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. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy based on strong research and good public health policy. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.