We normally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. It’s a personal, private matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health concern.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. We should think about how to handle it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job performance, sadly, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also stops venturing out. It’s just too stressful trying to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself rather than going out.
These decisions will have a cumulative effect as time passes.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a result of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are suffering because of his social isolation. His friends could think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts added tension on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue
While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be performed by his family. His health can be impacted overall and can result in increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him quite significantly.
You can get a sense of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
The good news is, this particular health problem can be addressed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally by wearing hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your risk of several connected conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily dealt with.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time participating in many day-to-day social areas of your life.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Information about how to protect your hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in numerous public health advertisements. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a big impact.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we alter our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically impact public health for the good.
And everybody is helped by that.