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

Ordinarily, hearing loss is looked at as a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. Personal. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health issue.

That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an effect on all of society. We should think about how to deal with it as a society.

The Cost of Hearing Loss

William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job execution, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.

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

Over time, these decisions accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a result of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning since that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are suffering due to his social separation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William might miss his friends or lament his economic position), they also have an impact on everyone else. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be performed by his family. His health can be affected overall and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed along to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him quite profoundly.

You can get an idea of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.

How to Manage Hearing Loss

Luckily, this particular health issue can be treated in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (typically by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:

  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time participating in many day-to-day social facets of your life.
  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
  • Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
  • The demands of your job will be more easily handled.

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 consider prevention. Public information campaigns seek to give people the information they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.

You can get apps that will keep track of sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

In some states they’re even expanding insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy based on strong evidence and strong public health policy. We can dramatically affect public health once and for all when we adjust our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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