The more I write about hearing loss issues, the more I realize that those in the media do not care. They don’t seem to view hearing loss as a serious issue. Or newsworthy. Or important. But those of us with hearing loss and those of us with friends and family with hearing loss know differently. Hearing loss may not be fatal, but it threatens your life — the quality of your life. And with 50 million Americans with hearing loss alone, it is an issue of grave importance to many.
I recently submitted an op-ed piece to The New York Times, The LA Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post and USA Today. Not simultaneously, of course, because you can only submit an op-ed to one news outlet at a time. I thought that since May was Better Hearing and Speech month, the media might be interested in publicizing the stigma associated with hearing loss and how this stigma is preventing many from seeking treatment. I hoped that by discussing the stigma openly, there might be an opportunity to begin to break it. Unfortunately, not one of these influential media outlets was interested.
Maybe my article was not well written, or controversial enough, or political enough, but I do believe the issue itself is important enough to warrant attention. I challenge the media outlets to take a look at the global health crisis of hearing loss. If they did, they would see that according to the World Health Organization, hearing loss is the second largest global health issue behind anemia. They would learn that in the US, more people have hearing loss than suffer from diabetes, Alzheimer’s, autism and osteoporosis combined. They would recognize the terrifying links between untreated hearing loss and dementia. Perhaps that would be an interesting story.
I think the media would be surprised to learn that hearing loss is not just an issue for the old. Given the ubiquitous presence of earbuds and iPods, 20% of teens now have some type of hearing loss. This data is from 2010 so the numbers are likely higher today. Hearing loss and tinnitus are also the #1 and #2 war wounds of our returning veterans. This is a serious issue, and one that should be getting more attention.
But why is the media so important? Isn’t it the scientists and doctors and legislators we really need on our side? We need them too, but the media is the fastest and most cost effective way to build awareness and reduce the stigma of hearing loss among the general population. With greater awareness and decreased stigma we could start to see changes like:
- More people getting tested and treated for hearing loss
- Services like hearing loops and closed captioning becoming more widespread
- Hearing loss prevention included as an important part of health education for school-aged children
- More research dollars allocated to finding treatments and cures for hearing loss
But none of this is possible without awareness of the issues, and for better or for worse, we need the media for that.
Readers, how can we help get the media to care about hearing loss?