Ordinarily, hearing loss is thought of as an issue that affects our personal life. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. Private. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We should think about how to deal with it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and against the suggestion of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, sadly, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends significantly more time at home alone. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So instead of going out, William isolates himself.
Over time, these choices accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some 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 through the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William is missing his friends and families! His relationships are struggling due to his social isolation. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), everyone else is also impacted. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be impacted as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s without insurance, those costs go to the public. And so, people around William are effected quite profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you can get an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Handle Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are a couple of fairly straight forward ways to help this specific public health concern: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically via the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
- Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social activities 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 taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.
You can get apps that will monitor sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in a broad and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a big effect.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach based on strong research and good public health policy. We can dramatically impact public health once and for all when we adjust our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And everyone is helped by that.