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

Normally, hearing loss is looked at as a problem that affects our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your state of health. Private. And on an individual level that’s true. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health concern.

Now, generally speaking, that simply means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society overall. So as a society, we need to think about how to deal with it.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

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

He also spends much more time at home alone. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (most people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself instead of going out.

These choices will add up as time passes.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a result of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it ripples through the whole economic system.
  • Social cost: William is missing his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. 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 seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts further tension on their relationships.

Why is it a Public Health Concern?

While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William might be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an effect on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. As a whole, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed along to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him rather significantly.

Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you can get a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.

Treating Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health problem can be addressed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (usually by the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be fairly dramatic:

  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to participate in many everyday social aspects of your life.
  • The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
  • With management of hearing loss, you might be able to help lower your chances of several connected conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.

Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that more and more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

It’s equally important to consider prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even common 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 background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in a broad and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a big effect.

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. When we change our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health in a positive way.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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