Usually, hearing loss is considered to be an issue that influences our personal life. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. It’s a personal, private matter. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health topic.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. We need to consider how to manage it as a society.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William has hearing impairment. He just learned last week and against the suggestion of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also stops going out. It’s just too challenging trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself rather than going out.
These choices will add up as time passes.
- 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. This level 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 miss! His relationships are harmed due to his social separation. His friends might think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. This puts added stress on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or lament his economic situation), everyone else is also impacted. William doesn’t spend as much at local merchants because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be carried out by his family. His health can be impacted overall and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those expenses go to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him quite significantly.
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 Treat Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health issue can be treated in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (usually by wearing hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time participating in many day-to-day social areas of your life.
- With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s just as important to think of prevention. Information about how to safeguard your ears from loud harmful noise can be found in countless public health commercials. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
You can download apps that will keep track of noise levels and alert you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in a broad and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a big impact.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Certain states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s an approach based on strong evidence and good public health policy. We can significantly affect public health once and for all when we adjust our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.