Why is Hearing Loss a Public Health Concern?

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Hearing loss has gone unrecognized as a public health concern for an incredibly long time. Despite its established link to mental and physical health problems and distinct impact on earning power and quality of life, hearing loss isn’t effectively handled as a part of comprehensive health care which often leaves persons with hearing impairment (as well as everyone they communicate with) overlooked and underserved.

Hearing Loss and the Public

Hearing loss has huge impacts on quality of life, from isolation to income. The inability to communicate thoroughly can lead to anxiety, isolation and depression as it cuts people off from friends, family and community. This disadvantage with communication also creates a noticeable income gap between persons with untreated hearing loss and those with full hearing. The extra strain that hearing loss places on the brain as it struggles to comprehend sound leads to a lack of coordination and higher likelihood of injuries like falling.

By the categorization of the World Health Organization, years lived with hearing loss are tabulated as “years with lived disability” or YLD. Hearing loss ranks in the top five disabling conditions in terms of YLD world-wide, amongst iron-deficiency anemia, major depression, and pain in the neck and back. This makes hearing loss one of the most prevalent conditions in terms of time lived in disabled condition. Recognizing the persistent and widespread impact hearing loss has on lives needs to contribute to increasing its visibility as a public health concern.

With public noise levels on the rise, environments that cause hearing damage are more common than ever. From noisy traffic to cranked-up headphones, we live in a busy, loud world where dangerous noise often goes unchecked as part of daily life. Increased public health concern can do more for increasing awareness and education about the long-term impact of noise, as well as working to help regulate environmental exposure to loud sound.

Overlooked by Medical Pathology

Part of the problem of having hearing loss going unrecognized as a public health concern is the nebulous way it is treated and categorized within our health care system.

Age-related hearing loss is very common, affecting one in three people over age 65 and about 50% of all people over age 75. Most often, hearing cannot be repaired as it is caused by damage to the fragile mechanisms of the inner ear – our sensitive hair cells and the auditory nerve which interprets sound for the brain. This type of hearing loss is best treated with an assistive device, like a hearing aid, as there are no effective medications or surgeries for the inner ear.

However, in what seems like a huge loophole, our medical model is such that if a course of treatment can’t be accomplished with medication or surgery, the bulk of finding appropriate care and resources falls upon the person with hearing impairment. Medical reasoning such as this has kept hearing aids and devices from being recognized as necessary (and effective) treatment options for people with irreparable hearing damage. The current mindset makes it difficult to get strategic treatment into the hands of those who need it. What is needed is the full policy and support of hearing loss as a public health concern, and the medical recognition of some of the most established courses of treatment as the standard of care,

Time for a Change

It is time for hearing loss awareness to be recognized a public health issue, and fortunately many concerned people are working hard to make it happen. A major push has begun on a variety of fronts to change the access patients have to hearing healthcare and devices. In 2016, the Food and Drug Administration began opening its standards. The Federal Trade Commission has also been meeting to look at ways that hearing devices especially can become more affordable and attainable. The public health importance of hearing loss has long been pushed by audiologists and industry leaders pushing for public awareness and patient empowerment.

Arizona Balance & Hearing Aids

At Arizona Balance & Hearing Aids we’ve always recognized what a difference hearing health makes in the lives of our customers. If you would like to set up a hearing test or schedule an appointment, contact us today.