We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a personal, private subject. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health concern.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We need to think about how to deal with it as a society.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the recommendations of his hearing specialist). Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; 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. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself rather than going out.
Over time, these choices accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by 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. This quantity of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it has a ripple effect throughout the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are struggling due to his social separation. His friends may think he is dismissing 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 strain on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Problem
While these costs will certainly be felt on a personal level (William may be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. As a whole, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, those 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 Handle Hearing Loss
Luckily, this specific health issue can be treated in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (normally via the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with management of hearing loss.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
- It will be easier to participate in countless social activities if you’re able to hear better.
- You’ll have a much easier time managing the demands of your job.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate 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.
Prevention is just as important. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can cause hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can considerably impact public health once and for all when we alter our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And everybody is helped by that.