Generally, hearing loss is considered to be an issue that influences our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a private, personal matter. And on an individual level that’s true. But when we talk about hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health issue.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. So as a society, we should consider how to manage it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the recommendations of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job efficiency; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.
He also spends a lot more time at home alone. 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 self isolates rather than going out.
Over time, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be a result 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. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social separation 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 seem like insensitivity or anger. This puts further strain on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Problem
While these costs will certainly be felt on an individual level (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), everyone else is also impacted. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be impacted overall and can result in increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those expenses go to the public. And so, people around William are impacted rather profoundly.
You can get a sense of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are a couple of fairly easy ways to improve this specific public health issue: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (typically by the use of hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your risk of several connected conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time participating in many day-to-day social aspects of your life.
- The demands of your job will be more easily managed.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Insight about how to protect your ears from loud harmful noise can be found in many public health commercials. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.
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 via education) is one way to have a huge effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy based on strong evidence and good public health policy. We can dramatically affect public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And everyone is helped by that.