Ordinarily, hearing loss is thought of as a problem that impacts our personal life. It’s an issue that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. It’s a private, personal subject. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. So as a society, we need to consider how to handle it.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the recommendations of his hearing professional). Williams job performance, sadly, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also spends lots more time at home alone. It’s just too stressful to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself instead of going out.
After a while, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the beginning as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts further tension on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be affected overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed along to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him rather significantly.
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
Fortunately, there are a couple of pretty straight forward ways to help this particular public health concern: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (typically via the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many day-to-day social facets of your life.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
Promoting good physical and mental health begins with treating your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
It’s equally important to think of prevention. Public information campaigns seek to give people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But even common noises can cause hearing loss, such as 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. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. We can dramatically affect public health once and for all when we adjust our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.