We normally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a personal, private subject. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when thought about in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health matter.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. We need to think about how to manage it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the guidance of his hearing professional). Williams job performance, sadly, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also stops venturing out. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.
These choices will have a cumulative effect after a while.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), they also have an influence on everyone else. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be performed by his family. His health can be affected overall and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him rather profoundly.
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 particular public health issue: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (usually via the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be fairly dramatic:
- You’ll have an easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
- With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social functions if you’re able to hear better.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s equally important to consider prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.
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 thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health for the good.
And everybody is helped by that.