Generally, hearing loss is looked at as a problem that impacts our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. It’s a private, personal matter. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when regarded in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health issue.
That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an effect on society as a whole. So as a society, we need to think about how to handle it.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the recommendations of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job efficiency; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also stops going out. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William isolates himself.
After a while, these decisions accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $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 through economic systems.
- Social cost: William misses his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?
While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), they also have an effect on everyone else. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be performed by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed along to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are effected quite 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 Handle Hearing Loss
Luckily, this particular health problem can be managed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (typically by the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to participate in many everyday social areas of your life.
Encouraging good physical and mental health begins with treating your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even lead to hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a huge impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.
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 alter our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically affect public health in a positive way.
And everyone is helped by that.