Generally, hearing loss is considered to be an issue that impacts our personal life. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health matter.
Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. So as a society, we should think about how to deal with it.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the guidance of his hearing specialist). 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 stops venturing out. It’s just too difficult to keep up with all the levels of conversation (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself instead of going out.
After a while, these choices add up for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some unemployment can be a result of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy something like $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 all through economic systems.
- Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social separation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.
Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue
While on an individual level these costs will definitely be felt (William might be having a hard time economically and socially), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be affected as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses go to the public. And so, those around William are impacted rather profoundly.
Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you can get an idea of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.
How to Treat Hearing Loss
The good news is, this particular health problem can be managed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (normally through the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- It will be easier to participate in many social functions if you can hear better.
- Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
- Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
- The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.
Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.
You can get apps that will keep track of sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often with education.
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 evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health for the good.
And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.