Ordinarily, hearing loss is considered to be a problem that affects our personal life. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. It’s a personal, private subject. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when considered in a larger perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health topic.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. We should think about how to manage it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.
He also spends much more time at home by himself. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself instead of going out.
Over time, these decisions accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be caused by hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is only the beginning of the story because it ripples through the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His relationships are harmed because of his social separation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts added tension on their relationships.
Why is it a Public Health Issue?
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also impacted. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. Overall, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are impacted rather profoundly.
Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
Treating Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are two pretty straight forward ways to help this specific public health concern: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- You’ll have a much easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
- It will be easier to participate in many social functions if you’re able to hear better.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
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. Information about how to protect your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in many public health advertisements. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.
You can download apps that will monitor sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often via education) is one way to have a huge effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. 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 dramatically affect public health for the good.
And everyone is helped by that.