Generally, hearing loss is looked at as an issue that influences our personal life. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when considered in a larger perspective, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health issue.
Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We should consider 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 specialist, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends a lot more time at home alone. 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.
These choices will have a cumulative effect over time.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some unemployment can be a result of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it ripples throughout the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William misses his friends and families! 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 distant. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts added strain on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on a personal level (William might be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an effect on everyone else. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be carried out by his family. Overall, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him quite 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
Fortunately, there are two pretty simple ways to improve this specific public health concern: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (usually via the use of hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:
- It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you can hear better.
- You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the demands of your job.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
- Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
Encouraging good physical and mental health starts with treating your hearing loss. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s just as important to think of prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But everyday noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.
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 practical way (often using education) is one way to have a big impact.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. When we change our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health in a positive way.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.