Typically, hearing loss is considered to be a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when considered in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health concern.
That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an effect on society as a whole. So as a society, we should think about how to deal with it.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William has hearing loss. He just learned last week 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). Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.
He also spends a lot more time at home by himself. It’s just too stressful to keep up with all the levels of conversation (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.
These decisions will add up after a while.
- Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect through the entire economic system.
- Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends could think he is ignoring them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea about his attitude towards them. This puts additional stress on their relationships.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While on an individual level these costs will certainly be felt (William might be having a difficult time socially and economically), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. His health can be affected as a whole and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, people 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 Treat Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are two fairly easy ways to improve this particular public health issue: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically through the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:
- You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
- With treatment for hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to engage in many daily social areas of your life.
Treating your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
Prevention is equally as important. Public information strategies aim at giving people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often via education) is one way to have a big impact.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can dramatically impact public health once and for all when we change our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And everybody is helped by that.