Ordinarily, hearing loss is looked at as a problem that influences our personal life. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. We should consider how to manage it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William has hearing impairment. He just learned last week and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this affects William’s job efficiency; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also stops venturing out. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself instead of going out.
With time, these choices accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by 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 only the beginning of the story because it has a ripple effect through the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are struggling because of his social isolation. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?
While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. His health can be affected overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed down to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him rather profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you can get a sense of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.
Treating Hearing Loss
The good news is, this particular health issue can be managed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (typically by using hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to participate in many daily social areas of your life.
- Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
- The demands of your job will be more easily managed.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
It’s equally important to consider prevention. Insight about how to protect your ears from loud harmful noise can be found in countless public health commercials. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in a broad and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a big effect.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s a strategy founded on strong research and good 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.