Normally, hearing loss is looked at as a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when thought about in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.
That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on all of society. We should consider how to manage it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also spends significantly more time at home alone. It’s just too difficult to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.
With time, these decisions accumulate for William.
- 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. Overall, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it ripples through the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are struggling because of his social separation. His friends could think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While on an individual level these costs will certainly be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Over-all, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed down to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, those around William are impacted rather profoundly.
You can get a sense of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Treat Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health issue can be treated in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (usually by wearing hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your risk of several connected conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to participate in many daily social aspects of your life.
Encouraging good mental and physical health begins with managing your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s equally important to think of prevention. Insight about how to safeguard your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in many public health commercials. But even everyday noises can cause hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
You can download apps that will monitor sound levels and caution you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a big effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we alter our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And everyone is helped by that.