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. It’s a private, personal matter. And on an individual level that’s true. But when we talk about hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health issue.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. We need to think about how to deal with it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to mess around 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; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also stops venturing out. There are just 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.
With time, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. 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 through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. This puts added strain on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William might be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an effect on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be performed by his family. As a whole, his health can become impacted and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are impacted quite significantly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are a couple of pretty straight forward ways to improve this particular public health concern: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (usually by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- It will be easier to participate in countless social functions if you can hear better.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
- Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
- You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information campaigns seek to give people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even cause hearing loss.
You can get apps that will keep track of 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 via education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Certain states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. When we change our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health for the good.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.