We normally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s an issue 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 we talk about hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health concern.
That simply means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an impact on society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to manage it.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the guidance of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this affects 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 stops venturing out. It’s just too difficult trying to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself instead of going out.
These choices will accumulate over time.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect throughout the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William might be having a hard time socially and economically), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be impacted overall and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed down to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, those around William are effected rather significantly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Luckily, this particular health problem can be managed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (typically by using hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many day-to-day social facets of your life.
- You’ll have a much easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with treating your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s equally important to think of prevention. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the information they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises such as 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 alert you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a huge impact.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach founded on strong evidence and strong public health policy. We can significantly affect public health once and for all when we alter our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.