Woman enjoying yoga with her friends after getting fit with hearing aids.

We normally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. It’s a personal, private subject. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when regarded in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health matter.

Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. We need to think about how to handle it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job efficiency; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.

He also spends much more time at home alone. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself instead of going out.

After a while, these decisions add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it ripples through the whole economic system.
  • Social cost: William misses his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. This puts additional tension on their relationships.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), they also have an effect on everyone else. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend 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 affected as a whole and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are impacted quite profoundly.

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 pretty easy ways to improve this specific public health problem: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is managed effectively (normally through the use of hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:

  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
  • Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
  • It will be easier to engage in many social activities if you’re able to hear better.

Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

It’s equally important to think of prevention. Insight about how to protect your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in numerous public health commercials. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And everyone is helped by that.

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