Typically, hearing loss is thought of as a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. It’s a personal, private subject. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health topic.
That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an effect on all of society. So as a society, we should consider how to manage it.
Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost
William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job efficiency; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.
He also spends a lot more time at home by himself. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.
Over time, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
- 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 about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an influence on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be done by his family. Overall, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are impacted quite profoundly.
Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you can get a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are a couple of pretty simple ways to improve this specific public health problem: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (normally by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
- It will be easier to participate in many social functions if you can hear better.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
Promoting good physical and mental health starts with managing your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s equally important to consider prevention. Information about how to safeguard your hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in many public health advertisements. 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 caution you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a big effect.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach founded on strong research and strong public health policy. We can considerably affect public health once and for all when we adjust our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And everybody is helped by that.