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

We generally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. It’s a personal, private matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health topic.

That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an impact on all of society. So as a society, we need to think about how to deal with it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and against the suggestion of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before messing around with hearing aids. Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also spends lots more time at home by himself. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself rather than going out.

These decisions will accumulate as time passes.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it has a ripple effect through the whole economic system.
  • Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. This puts additional strain on their relationships.

Why is it a Public Health Concern?

While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William may be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local stores. More attention will have 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. The costs then get passed along to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss impacts people around him quite significantly.

Now multiply William by 466 million and you will have a sense of why public health officials take hearing loss very seriously.

Managing Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are two fairly easy ways to help this specific public health concern: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (normally by the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:

  • You’ll have an easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
  • Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
  • You’ll be able to hear better, and so it will be easier to participate in many day-to-day social facets of your life.

Promoting good mental and physical health begins with treating your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

Prevention is just as important. Information about how to protect your hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in numerous public health advertisements. 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 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.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy founded on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly affect public health in a good way.

And everybody is helped by that.

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