We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. It’s a private, personal matter. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when thought about in a broader perspective, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health concern.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. So as a society, we need to consider how to deal with it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends significantly more time at home alone. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates rather than going out.
These decisions will add up as time passes.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning because that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His relationships are suffering due to his social separation. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts additional tension on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While these costs will certainly be felt on an individual level (William may be having a hard time economically and socially), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. His health can be impacted overall and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses go to the public. And so, people around William are effected rather profoundly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.
Dealing With Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are two fairly easy ways to improve this specific public health issue: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is managed properly (usually through the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
- It will be easier to participate in countless social activities if you can hear better.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with dealing with your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the facts 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 monitor noise levels and warn you when they get too loud. One way to have a huge effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.
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 evidence have inspired this approach. 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.