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

We normally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a private, personal matter. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But when discussing hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health concern.

That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an effect on all of society. So as a society, we should consider how to handle it.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

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

He also stops venturing out. There are just too many layers 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 accumulate over time.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be caused by hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are struggling because of his social isolation. His friends may think he is ignoring them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.

Why is it a Public Health Issue?

While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may 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 caretaking will have to be performed by his family. Overall, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him 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.

Managing Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are a couple of pretty easy ways to help this particular public health concern: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally by wearing hearing aids), the outcome can be fairly dramatic:

  • You’ll have a much easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
  • Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many everyday social areas of your life.

Promoting good mental and physical health begins with managing your hearing loss. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the facts they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.

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

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Certain states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. good public health policy and strong research have inspired this approach. When we alter our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health in a good way.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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