Typically, hearing loss is looked at as an issue that affects our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when regarded in a broader perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health topic.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We should think about how to handle it as a society.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
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 right now (against the recommendations of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.
He also stops going out. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.
Over time, these decisions add up for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it ripples through the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. This puts additional tension on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William may be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an influence on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be performed by his family. His health can be affected as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those costs get passed on to the public. And so, those around William are impacted quite significantly.
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 particular health issue can be managed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (normally through the use of hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
- With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many day-to-day social areas of your life.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s equally important to think of prevention. Insight about how to safeguard your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in numerous public health ads. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
You can get apps that will monitor sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.
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 strong public health policy. We can dramatically impact public health once and for all when we alter our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And everyone is helped by that.