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

We tend to think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when considering hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health topic.

Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society as a whole. We need to consider how to handle it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

William has hearing loss. He just learned last week 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 impacted by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.

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 he isolates himself instead of going out.

These decisions will have a cumulative effect over time.

  • 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. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount 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 separation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. This puts additional stress on their relationships.

Why is it a Public Health Problem?

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), they also have an influence on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will need to be carried out by his family. His health can be affected as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s without insurance, those costs go to the public. And so, those around William are impacted rather 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 fairly straight forward ways to improve this particular public health concern: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (normally by wearing hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

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

Promoting good physical and mental health begins with treating your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.

You can get apps that will monitor sound levels and caution 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 extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. 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 that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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