We normally 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 accurate, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health concern.
That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an effect on all of society. So as a society, we should think about how to manage it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William just learned last week he has hearing loss and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the guidance of his hearing specialist). Williams job execution, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time following along in meetings, etc.
He also stops going out. It’s just too frustrating to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William isolates himself.
These choices will have a cumulative effect over time.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by 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 just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may 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 additional strain on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue
While these costs will certainly be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or lament his economic situation), 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 caretaking will need to be done by his family. As a whole, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are impacted rather profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Handle Hearing Loss
Luckily, this specific health problem can be treated in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally via the use of hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:
- With management of hearing loss, you might be able to help lower your risk of several linked conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you can hear better.
- The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
Promoting good mental and physical health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Information about how to safeguard your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in many public health commercials. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even lead to hearing loss.
You can get apps that will monitor sound levels and caution you when they get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy based on strong research and good public health policy. When we alter our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health for the good.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.