Generally, hearing loss is considered to be a problem that affects our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. Personal. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when discussing 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 topic.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. So as a society, we should consider how to deal with it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William has hearing loss. He just learned last week and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, sadly, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends a lot more time at home by himself. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself instead of going out.
After a while, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact 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 something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning because that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His relationships are suffering due to his social separation. His friends could think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They could be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. This puts additional stress on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Problem
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also impacted. William isn’t spending as much at local shops 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 impacted overall and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him quite significantly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
Dealing With Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are two fairly easy ways to help this particular public health issue: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your chances of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many everyday social facets of your life.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
- The demands of your job will be more easily managed.
Encouraging good mental and physical health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is just as important. Information about how to protect your hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in countless public health commercials. But even common noises can cause hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s an approach based on strong research and good public health policy. We can considerably affect public health once and for all when we alter our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.