Ordinarily, hearing loss is thought of as an issue that influences our personal life. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a personal, private matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health topic.
That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an impact on society as a whole. So as a society, we should consider how to deal with it.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William just found out last week he has hearing loss and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this affects William’s job efficiency; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends a lot more time at home by himself. It’s just too challenging to keep up with all the layers of conversation (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he self isolates instead of going out.
These decisions will accumulate after a while.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it ripples throughout the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends could think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. This puts added strain on their relationships.
Why is it a Public Health Problem?
While these costs will certainly be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or lament his economic situation), they also have an influence on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be carried out by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts 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 Handle Hearing Loss
Luckily, this particular health issue can be treated in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (typically by the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- With treatment for hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your risk of several connected conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to engage in many day-to-day social facets of your life.
- You’ll have an easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
Promoting good mental and physical health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is just as important. Insight about how to safeguard your ears from loud harmful noise can be found in many public health ads. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Certain states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s an approach founded on strong research and good public health policy. We can considerably impact public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.