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

Ordinarily, hearing loss is looked at as an issue 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. It’s a private, personal matter. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when thought about in a larger perspective, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health issue.

That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an impact on all of society. We should consider how to handle it as a society.

The Cost of Hearing Loss

William just found out last week he has hearing impairment 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 impacted by his hearing loss; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

He also stops going out. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to try and keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William isolates himself.

These decisions will add up as time passes.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are struggling due to his social separation. His friends could think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. This puts further stress on their relationships.

Why is it a Public Health Issue?

While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William might miss his friends or lament his economic situation), they also have an effect on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local shops 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 result in increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed down to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him quite significantly.

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

Treating Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are two pretty simple ways to improve this particular public health issue: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed properly (usually by using hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:

  • It will be easier to engage in many social functions if you can hear better.
  • You’ll have an easier time managing the difficulties of your job.
  • Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, 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.

Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with treating your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

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

There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a huge impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach based on strong evidence and strong public health policy. We can significantly affect public health once and for all when we change our thinking about preventing hearing loss.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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