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

Generally, hearing loss is looked at as a problem that impacts our personal life. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a personal, private subject. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 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 as a whole. So as a society, we need to consider how to manage it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

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. Williams job performance, regrettably, is being impacted by his hearing loss; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also spends lots more time at home by himself. There are just too many layers 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.

After a while, these decisions accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This quantity of lost income is just the beginning of the story because it ripples throughout the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His relationships are struggling due to his social separation. His friends may think he is ignoring them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. This puts additional strain on their relationships.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or lament his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. 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. Over-all, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs then get passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him quite 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.

How to Treat Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health issue can be addressed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (normally through the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:

  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
  • Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.
  • The difficulties of your job will be more easily managed.
  • It will be easier to engage in countless social activities if you can hear better.

Encouraging good mental and physical health begins with managing your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can lead to hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing your lawn.

You can get apps that will monitor noise levels and alert you when they get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often with 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 founded on strong evidence and good public health policy. When we alter our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly affect public health for the good.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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