Typically, hearing loss is looked at as a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And that’s true, 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 understand it as a public health topic.
That simply means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an impact on all of society. So as a society, we need to consider how to manage it.
Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences
William just found out last week he has hearing loss and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Williams job execution, sadly, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also spends significantly more time at home by himself. It’s just too difficult to keep up with all the levels of conversation (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he self isolates rather than going out.
These decisions will have a cumulative effect as time passes.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning since that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are suffering due to his social isolation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. They might be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While these costs will certainly be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or lament his economic situation), they also have an effect on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be carried out by his family. Over-all, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, those around William are impacted rather significantly.
You can get an idea of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
Treating Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are two pretty easy ways to help this particular public health problem: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically through the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
- With management of hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
- It will be easier to participate in countless social activities if you can hear better.
Treating 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 consider prevention. Public information strategies seek to give people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Some states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. We can significantly affect public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.