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

Normally, hearing loss is thought of as a challenge that influences our personal life. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. It’s a personal, private matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.

Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We should consider how to manage it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

William has hearing impairment. 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 performance, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

He also stops venturing out. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself rather than going out.

These decisions will add up over time.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $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 miss! His relationships are harmed because of his social separation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern

While these costs will certainly be felt on a personal level (William may be having a hard time economically and socially), they also have an influence on everyone else. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local shops. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. His health can be affected as a whole and can result in increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those costs go to the public. And so, people around William are impacted quite profoundly.

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

How to Manage Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are two pretty simple ways to help this specific public health issue: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:

  • You’ll have a much easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
  • With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your risk of several connected conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
  • It will be easier to participate in countless social functions if you can hear better.
  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.

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

Prevention is just as important. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the information they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But even everyday noises can result in 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 warn you when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a big impact.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Some states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s an approach founded on strong research and good public health policy. We can considerably impact public health once and for all when we adjust our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And everybody is helped by that.

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