Ordinarily, hearing loss is looked at as a challenge that influences our personal life. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. Personal. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health issue.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. We should consider how to manage it as a society.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.
He also spends significantly more time at home alone. It’s just too challenging to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.
These choices will accumulate over time.
- 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 level of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning since that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His relationships are struggling due to his social isolation. 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 aloof. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. This puts further tension on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may miss his friends or lament his economic position), everyone else is also impacted. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants because he has less money. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Over-all, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him quite profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.
Treating Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are a couple of pretty simple ways to help this particular public health issue: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (usually via the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the demands of your job.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social activities if you’re able to hear better.
- Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with management of hearing loss.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with dealing with your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.
You can get apps that will monitor noise levels and alert you when they get too loud. One way to have a huge impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Some states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. 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 drastically affect public health for the good.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.