We tend to think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. Private. 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 necessary that we also understand it as a public health topic.
That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an effect on society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to handle it.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also stops going out. It’s just too frustrating to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William isolates himself.
With time, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. 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, as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. They could be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may be having a difficult time economically and socially), everyone else is also influenced. William doesn’t spend as much at local merchants because he has less money. More attention will have 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 expenses get passed on to the public. And so, those around William are effected 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 fairly simple ways to improve this specific public health problem: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically via the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be fairly dramatic:
- You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- It will be easier to participate in many social functions if you’re able to hear better.
- Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
Promoting good mental and physical health starts with dealing with your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
It’s equally important to consider prevention. Insight about how to safeguard your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in countless public health advertisements. But even common noises can result in hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. When we change our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health in a positive way.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.