We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. Personal. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health matter.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society as a whole. We should consider how to deal with it as a society.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William has hearing loss. He just found out 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 recommendations of his hearing professional). Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also spends much more time at home alone. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So instead of going out, William isolates himself.
These choices will add up over time.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning because the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William misses his friends and families! His relationships are harmed because of his social separation. His friends might think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They might be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern
While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), they also have an effect on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local merchants because he has less money. 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 lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. And so, those around William are impacted quite profoundly.
Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Manage Hearing Loss
Thankfully, there are a couple of pretty easy ways to help this specific public health issue: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (usually through the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to participate in many day-to-day social areas of your life.
- You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
- Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
- With management of hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
Promoting good physical and mental health begins with treating your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that more and more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.
It’s equally important to consider prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.
A Little Help Goes a Long Way
In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s an approach founded on strong evidence and good public health policy. We can considerably impact public health once and for all when we alter our ideas about preventing hearing loss.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.