We normally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. Personal. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health issue.
Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to manage it.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the guidance of his hearing professional). Williams job performance, sadly, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also spends a lot more time at home alone. It’s just too challenging trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself rather than going out.
These decisions will have a cumulative effect after a while.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are struggling because of his social isolation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue
While on an individual 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 isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be performed by his family. As a whole, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him rather profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.
Managing Hearing Loss
The good news is, this particular health problem can be addressed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (typically by wearing hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to participate in many day-to-day social areas of your life.
Encouraging good physical and mental health begins with managing your hearing loss. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information campaigns seek to give people the facts they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can lead to hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often via education) is one way to have a big impact.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Certain states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s an approach founded on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health for the good.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.