Ordinarily, hearing loss is thought of as a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. Personal. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when regarded in a larger perspective, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health matter.
Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society overall. So as a society, we need to consider how to manage it.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; it’s been difficult for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends much more time at home by himself. It’s just too frustrating to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates rather than going out.
With time, these decisions accumulate for William.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. This puts added strain on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also impacted. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. His health can be impacted overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those costs get passed on to the public. And so, people around William are impacted quite profoundly.
You can get a sense of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.
Managing Hearing Loss
Fortunately, there are a couple of pretty easy ways to improve this particular public health concern: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (typically by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
- The demands of your job will be more easily handled.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social functions if you’re able to hear better.
- Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that a lot more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
It’s just as important to think of prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But even everyday noises can lead to hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
You can get apps that will monitor sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a big effect.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
Some states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s a strategy founded on strong research and good public health policy. When we alter our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health for the good.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.