We normally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when thought about in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health issue.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. We need to consider how to deal with it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William has hearing loss. He just learned last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the guidance of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; 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 a lot more time at home alone. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.
After a while, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William misses his friends and families! His relationships are harmed because of his social isolation. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. This puts added strain on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may be having a difficult time economically and socially), everyone else is also impacted. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be done by his family. Overall, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses go to the public. And so, those around William are effected rather significantly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you can get a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are a couple of fairly straight forward ways to help this particular public health problem: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (typically by wearing hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your chances of several connected conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time participating in many daily social aspects of your life.
- The demands of your job will be more easily managed.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that a lot more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the facts they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even lead to hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and warn you when things 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
Certain states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s an approach based on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically impact public health in a good way.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.