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

We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health topic.

That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an impact on all of society. So as a society, we need to consider how to manage it.

The Cost of Hearing Loss

William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also stops going out. There are just too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.

With time, these choices add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be a result of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William misses his friends and families! His relationships are struggling due to his social separation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. This puts added stress on their relationships.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?

While these costs will certainly be felt on a personal level (William may be having a hard time economically and socially), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be performed by his family. Overall, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those costs get passed on to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him rather profoundly.

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

Managing Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health problem can be managed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many day-to-day social aspects of your life.
  • You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the demands of your job.
  • Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, like listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.

There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a big impact.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Certain states in the U.S. are even changing the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can considerably affect public health once and for all when we alter our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And everyone is helped by that.

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