Ordinarily, hearing loss is thought of as a problem that influences our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. It’s a private, personal subject. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But when we talk about hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health concern.
That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an impact on society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to handle it.
The Consequences of Hearing Loss
William has hearing loss. He just learned last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job efficiency; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.
He also stops venturing out. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William isolates himself.
These decisions will add up after a while.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is only the beginning of the story because it ripples throughout the whole economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social isolation 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 aloof. They might be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. This puts added strain on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While these costs will certainly be felt on an individual level (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), 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. His health can be affected overall and can result in increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those costs get passed on to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him quite profoundly.
Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
Dealing With Hearing Loss
The good news is, this specific health problem can be addressed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically through the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your risk of several connected conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to participate in many everyday social aspects of your life.
- You’ll have a much easier time staying on top of the demands of your job.
- Your relationships will get better because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
Encouraging good physical and mental health starts with treating your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.
It’s just as important to consider prevention. Information about how to safeguard your hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in countless public health commercials. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.
You can get apps that will keep track of sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. One way to have a huge effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy based on strong research and strong public health policy. When we change our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically affect public health in a good way.
And everyone is helped by that.