Normally, hearing loss is thought of as an issue that influences our personal life. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health topic.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. We need to think about how to deal with it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job efficiency; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also stops going out. It’s just too difficult to keep up with all the levels of conversation (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William isolates himself.
Over time, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They could be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.
Why is it a Public Health Problem?
While these costs will definitely be felt on an individual level (William may be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an impact on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. Overall, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him rather significantly.
You can get a sense of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.
Treating Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health issue can be treated in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (normally by using hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:
- It will be easier to engage in countless social functions if you can hear better.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- You’ll have an easier time managing the demands of your job.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is just as important. Insight about how to safeguard your ears from loud harmful noise can be found in countless public health commercials. But even common noises can result in hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
You can download apps that will keep track of sound levels and caution you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy based on strong evidence and strong public health policy. We can considerably impact public health once and for all when we alter our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And everyone is helped by that.