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

We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health issue.

Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We need to think about how to handle it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

William just found out last week he has hearing loss and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, sadly, is being affected by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to finish his work, and so on.

He also stops going out. It’s just too difficult trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself rather than going out.

Over time, these choices add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a result of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is only the beginning of the story because it ripples through the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social separation is costing him relationships. His friends might think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained due to this.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?

While these costs will certainly be felt on a personal level (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic position), they also have an influence on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be impacted overall and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those costs get passed on to the public. And so, people around William are effected quite 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.

How to Manage Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are a couple of pretty easy ways to help this specific public health issue: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (typically by the use of hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:

  • Your risk of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
  • You’ll have an easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
  • It will be easier to engage in countless social activities if you can hear better.
  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.

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

Prevention is just as important. Insight about how to protect your ears from loud damaging noise can be found in numerous public health advertisements. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.

There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a big impact.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

Some states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s a strategy based on strong research and strong public health policy. When we alter our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically impact public health for the good.

And everybody is helped by that.

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