We normally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. It’s a private, personal subject. 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 recognize it as a public health concern.
Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. So as a society, we should consider how to deal with it.
The Cost 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 bit before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.
He also spends a lot more time at home alone. It’s just too stressful trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself instead of going out.
Over 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 result in a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it ripples throughout the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is ignoring them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?
While on an individual level these costs will definitely be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be performed by his family. His health can be affected overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts people 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 Manage Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are a couple of pretty simple ways to help this particular public health concern: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (normally by the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
- The demands of your job will be more easily managed.
- It will be easier to engage in countless social activities if you’re able to hear better.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
Encouraging good physical and mental health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even common noises can result in hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background 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 via education.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
Certain states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s a strategy based on strong research and good public health policy. We can dramatically impact public health once and for all when we adjust our thinking about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.