We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But when we talk about hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health matter.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society overall. So as a society, we should think about how to manage it.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the guidance of his hearing professional). Williams job performance, unfortunately, 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 by himself. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.
Over time, these decisions accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect 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 as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. This puts added strain on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?
While these costs will certainly be felt on an individual level (William may be having a hard time economically and socially), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be performed by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses go to the public. And so, people around William are effected rather profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Handle Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are two pretty simple ways to improve this particular public health concern: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally by the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to engage in many everyday social facets of your life.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote good health, both physically and mentally. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s equally important to consider prevention. Information about how to protect your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in numerous public health ads. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a big impact.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can considerably affect public health once and for all when we adjust our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And everyone is helped by that.