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UK Northerners are more likely than Southerners to develop hearing loss

It may be because more people up North work and live in loud places.

A new study by researchers at the University of Manchester shows that Northerners are up to 85 percent more likely to develop hearing loss than Southerners. For people aged 61 to 70, about a quarter of people in the North East and Yorkshire and Humber had hearing loss, compared with just 15 per cent in the South East. A possible reason for this geographical difference is because heavy industry has a larger presence in the North, and the noise exposure can be harmful to the hearing of those who work in these manual occupations, or who live near loud sites.

If staying in a manual job can progressively damage the ear, should some Northern labourers consider a career change? After all, hearing loss can have large economic consequences. It may worsen their performance at the job and risk them getting laid off. It could also limit the other type of jobs they can do and affect many aspects of their lives outside work: many people with disabilities struggle to get adequate support and/or face discrimination from both employers and society at large. Moreover, hearing loss may come with constant medical appointments and prescriptions for the rest of their lives.

But there are a few problems with this career-change suggestion. For a start, labourers may like their work and not want to swap it for an office or other quieter environment. Even if that wasn’t the case, the North of England also lags the South in terms of educational attainment and the number of well-paid jobs available. That means there isn’t necessarily a huge amount of non-noisy options available; especially options that industry workers are already qualified for.

It would similarly be difficult for people to move their homes away from disruptive noise. Moving can mean increasing the distance people live from loved ones or loosening their ties to their community; both valuable things people are understandably reluctant to give up. There are also financial constraints. Housing is expensive throughout the UK, but it is much more expensive in the South and in areas that are considered more desirable because they have low levels of noise pollution. This makes it hard for people from less wealthy areas or backgrounds to move out.

So can anything be done about hearing loss in the North? Well, what about fixing another possible reason the geographical disparity exists in the first place: the health service disparity between the North and South. There is a long history of a lack of equal NHS funding in the North, which has been pointed out by key figures in the NHS administration. The more resources a healthcare service has, the more attentive to the various health needs of its patients GPs and other medical practitioners can be, and the easier patients find it to get hold of prescriptions, appointment slots and treatments. When it comes to hearing loss, it may be that Southerners are more likely to get early intervention and better treatment.

The UK government could create policies that aim to rectify this disparity, say by increasing the budget available to NHS institutions up North. This would have wider benefits, because hearing loss is not the only health disparity between the North and South. A report published by Imperial College London reveals that life expectancy fell by up to three years in areas of the North in the 17 years before the pandemic, compared to an increase of 9 years in the richest parts of the South. And having poorer health outcomes in general meant Northerners were more vulnerable to Covid-19. A report commissioned by the NHSA last year found that people in the North had 17 percent higher mortality rates due to Covid than the rest of England.

Read our explainer on: economic inequality

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