Typically, hearing loss is thought of as a problem that influences our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. It’s a personal, private matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. So as a society, we need to think about how to deal with it.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing professional). Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s harder 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 keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William isolates himself.
These choices will have a cumulative effect over time.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is only the beginning of the story because it has a ripple effect throughout the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is ignoring them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. They might be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming tense because of this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), they also have an impact on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be affected as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, those around William are effected 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
Luckily, this specific health issue can be managed in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated properly (typically by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to engage in many everyday social areas of your life.
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily handled.
- With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that a lot more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
Prevention is just as important. Public information campaigns seek to give people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.
You can download apps that will keep track of noise levels and warn you when they get too loud. One way to have a big 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 transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s a strategy based on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically impact public health in a positive way.
And everyone is helped by that.