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

We tend to think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when we talk about 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 topic.

That just means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be viewed as something that has an impact on society as a whole. We should think about how to manage it as a society.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William has hearing impairment. He just learned last week and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job performance, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also stops going out. There are just too many levels of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So instead of going out, William self-isolates.

These decisions will accumulate after a while.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a result of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level 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 social separation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems distant. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming tense because of this.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?

While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may miss his friends or lament his economic position), everyone else is also impacted. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be performed by his family. Overall, his health can become impacted and can result in increased healthcare expenses. If he’s not insured, those expenses go to the public. And so, people around William are impacted quite significantly.

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

Dealing With Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health problem can be managed in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (usually by the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
  • You’ll have a much easier time staying on top of the difficulties of your job.
  • With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your risk of several linked conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to engage in many everyday social facets of your life.

Promoting good mental and physical health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

It’s equally important to consider prevention. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the information they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones too loud can even result in hearing loss.

You can download apps that will keep track of noise levels and alert you when they get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Some states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we alter our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly affect public health for the good.

And everyone is helped by that.

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