We generally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. Personal. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.
That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an effect on society as a whole. So as a society, we need to think about how to handle it.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job efficiency; it’s harder 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 challenging to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates 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 consequence of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! 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 seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts added stress on their relationships.
Why is it a Public Health Issue?
While on an individual level these costs will definitely be felt (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), they also have an influence on everyone else. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. His health can be affected as a whole and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him rather profoundly.
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 Treat Hearing Loss
Luckily, this specific health problem can be addressed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (usually by the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
- It will be easier to participate in countless social functions if you’re able to hear better.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
Prevention is just as important. Information about how to safeguard your hearing 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 lead to hearing loss.
You can get apps that will keep track of sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach founded on strong evidence and good public health policy. We can significantly affect public health once and for all when we change our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.