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

Usually, hearing loss is thought of as an issue that affects our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a personal, private subject. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health issue.

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

The Cost of Hearing Loss

William just learned last week he has hearing loss and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job efficiency; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time following along in meetings, etc.

He also spends lots more time at home by himself. It’s just too challenging to keep up with all the layers of conversation (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he self isolates rather than going out.

Over time, these choices add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by hearing loss according to 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 beginning as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. It can come across as anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming tense because of this.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?

While on an individual level these costs will certainly be felt (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), everyone else is also influenced. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. Over-all, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, people around William are impacted rather significantly.

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 Treat Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health issue can be managed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally by wearing hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:

  • With treatment for hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your chances of several connected conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • It will be easier to engage in countless social functions if you can hear better.
  • The difficulties of your job will be more easily handled.
  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

It’s just as important to think of prevention. Information about how to safeguard your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in countless public health advertisements. But even common noises can cause hearing loss, like using 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. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a huge impact.

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 research and strong public health policy. We can significantly impact public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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