The ability to remain alert is the best way to avoid potentially harmful or fatal accidents and injuries. Several things in our everyday lives can inhibit our alertness – but a foundational risk factor for harm due to a lack of alertness is the efficacy and functionality of our basic senses. While total sensory loss in any area can present an obvious threat, a partial deficiency can have negative outcomes as well. In this article we will be focusing specifically on how hearing loss and auditory impairments can affect safety and accidental injuries.
Studies Linking Hearing Loss & Injury
A multivariate analysis adjusting for age, sex, and other factors was conducted on a survey of 232.2 million adults in the United States. Participants were asked to rate their hearing ability. Just over half (50.1%) rated their hearing as “less than excellent”. Just under 3% (2.8%) of survey members overall experienced an accidental injury. The injury rate steadily increases with each reported degree of hearing loss with “a lot of trouble hearing” reaching nearly one in twenty people experiencing a work or leisure related accidental injury during the same time period.
Injuries incur additional costs beyond the effects of the injury itself that people often overlook. In 2013, a study carried out by the CDC on similar injury data concluded that the lifetime costs for medical treatments for accidental injuries exceeded 253 billion US dollars. The average cost across individuals included in this figure is more than 14 thousand US dollars. This includes all injuries, and not just injuries that can be traced directly to hearing loss – but the strong co-morbidity between hearing loss and accidental injuries resulting in harm to an individual remain clear in the data.
Why hearing loss is so closely associated with accidental injuries cannot be fully scientifically verified – but we can make some educated assumptions. Many sources of danger are accompanied by an auditory queue that can warn an individual to take action to avoid injury. In many cases – this reaction is reflexive in response to the auditory queue. Humans are social animals as well. A great deal of the harm we avoid can be attributed to the alertness or knowledge of another rather than our selves. A friendly person yelling “watch out” or “duck” can help someone (who was otherwise unaware) avoid danger. We also can avoid harm by receiving explanations on how to avoid harm – and a hearing impairment could cause someone to miss an important article of information.
Most of societies warning systems are auditory in nature. The sirens of emergency vehicles, weather alarms in cities or accompanying weather alert broadcasts are some well-known examples, but the most common alert we are all familiar with is a standard household smoke alarm. In 2009, a publication known as “Ear and Hearing” addressed the specific relationship between smoke alarms and hearing impairment. They found that strobe lights were ineffective at waking hearing impaired sleepers. Some other warning methods were tried, but the most effective methods for the hearing impaired still involved an auditory queue. A low frequency (520 hz square wave) alarm sound worked for many, but a hearing aid increases the effectiveness of an alarm like this. Hearing aides also have the added benefit of making other auditory warnings more effective and improving the overall quality of life for the hearing impaired.
Seeking Treatment for Hearing Loss
Most medical experts universally recommend getting a hearing evaluation done by a professional to assess your level of hearing impairment. A very common treatment for individuals who have some level of hearing impairment is to obtain and use a hearing aid.
Using a hearing aid not only lets you have more agency in your own safety, but it lets you bring your wisdom to bear for the safety of others. It lets you participate better in the social safety dynamic by having the opportunity to warn others who may not be able to hear danger due to noise pollution, being asleep, or being farther away from an auditory queue for danger.
Of course, having a hearing aid also allows you to participate better in social dynamics because most people’s primary form of communication is audio-verbal in nature. Getting a hearing evaluation, and then a hearing aid if necessary, is universally good on all fronts.