Ordinarily, hearing loss is looked at as an issue that affects our personal life. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. Private. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when thought about in a broader perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health topic.
Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We should think about how to handle it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William just found out last week he has hearing loss and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the guidance of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also stops going out. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.
These decisions will add up as time passes.
- Economic cost: Neglecting 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 around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His relationships are suffering because of his social separation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. This puts additional tension on their relationships.
Why is it a Public Health Problem?
While these costs will definitely be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also impacted. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. Over-all, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, those around William are impacted rather significantly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you can get an idea of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.
How to Handle Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are a couple of pretty easy ways to improve this specific public health concern: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (usually through the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- With management of hearing loss, you might be able to help lower your risk of several linked conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, 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.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the demands of your job.
Encouraging good physical and mental health begins with treating your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Information about how to safeguard your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in numerous public health commercials. But even everyday noises can cause hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the 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 a broad and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a big effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s an approach founded on strong research and strong public health policy. When we change our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically affect public health for the good.
And everyone is helped by that.