Typically, hearing loss is thought of as an issue that influences our personal life. 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 when considering hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. So as a society, we need to think about how to deal with it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job performance, regrettably, is being affected 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 stops going out. It’s just too frustrating trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself rather than going out.
These choices will add up over time.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect throughout the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William is missing his friends and families! His relationships are harmed due to his social separation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts added strain on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?
While these costs will definitely be felt on an individual level (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), everyone else is also influenced. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. Over-all, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed along to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him quite profoundly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.
How to Handle Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health problem can be addressed in two simple ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (usually by using hearing aids), the outcome can be fairly dramatic:
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to participate in many day-to-day social areas of your life.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
- You’ll have an easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
Promoting good physical and mental health starts with managing your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But everyday noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a huge effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s an approach founded on strong research and good public health policy. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.