We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. It’s a private, personal matter. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when regarded in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health matter.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We need to consider how to handle it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job performance, regrettably, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends much more time at home alone. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself rather than going out.
These choices will accumulate as time passes.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. They could be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Over-all, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him 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.
Treating Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health issue can be treated in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed effectively (normally by the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- With management of hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your chances of several connected conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time participating in many everyday social aspects of your life.
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote good health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a huge effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Certain states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s a strategy founded on strong research and strong public health policy. We can considerably affect public health once and for all when we change our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And everybody is helped by that.