We tend to think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. Private. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But when considering hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.
That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an effect on all of society. So as a society, we should consider how to handle it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William has hearing loss. He just learned last week and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.
He also spends lots more time at home by himself. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.
These choices will accumulate after a while.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the beginning because that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his friends and families! His relationships are struggling due to his social separation. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They might be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While these costs will definitely be felt on an individual level (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), they also have an effect on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. His health can be impacted overall and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed down to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, people around William are effected quite significantly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you can get an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Handle Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health problem can be addressed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically by using hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:
- It will be easier to participate in countless social functions if you’re able to hear better.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- You’ll have a much easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
- Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
Dealing with 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 prioritizing the care of your hearing.
It’s just as important to think of prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often via education) is one way to have a huge impact.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach founded on strong research and strong public health policy. When we change our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health in a good way.
And everyone is helped by that.