We generally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health issue.
Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We need to think about how to handle it as a society.
The Cost of Hearing Loss
William has hearing loss. He just learned last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the advice of his hearing professional). Williams job performance, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.
He also stops venturing out. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself instead of going out.
After a while, these decisions add up for William.
- Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it ripples through the entire economic system.
- 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 about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. This puts added tension on their relationships.
What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?
While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), they also have an influence on everyone else. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be carried out by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed along to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, those around William are impacted quite significantly.
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
Thankfully, there are a couple of fairly simple ways to help this specific public health concern: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed properly (typically via the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:
- Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
- Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
- You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many day-to-day social areas of your life.
- The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
Encouraging good physical and mental health begins with treating your hearing loss. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.
It’s equally important to think of prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But even everyday noises can cause hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.
You can download apps that will keep track of sound levels and alert you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a big effect.
We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help
In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we change our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health for the good.
And everybody is helped by that.