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

Generally, hearing loss is looked at as a challenge that impacts our personal life. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. Private. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when regarded in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health concern.

Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society overall. So as a society, we need to consider how to handle it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William just found out last week he has hearing loss and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a bit before messing around with hearing aids. Williams job execution, unfortunately, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.

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

These choices 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 result of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. Because of this the world economy can lose as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
  • Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His relationships are suffering because of his social isolation. His friends could think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. This puts added stress on their relationships.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Concern

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or lament his economic situation), everyone else is also influenced. With less money to his name, William isn’t spending as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will need to be carried out by his family. His health can be impacted as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s uninsured, those expenses go to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him rather 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.

Treating Hearing Loss

Fortunately, there are a couple of fairly simple ways to improve this specific public health problem: treatment and prevention. When hearing loss is treated effectively (normally by wearing hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:

  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • You’ll have a much easier time managing the demands of your job.
  • Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
  • It will be easier to participate in countless social functions if you can hear better.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. It makes sense, then, that a lot more medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

It’s equally important to think of prevention. Public information campaigns seek to give people the insight they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the 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 practical way (often via education) is one way to have a big effect.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

In some states they’re even expanding insurance to address hearing healthcare. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we alter our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically impact public health in a good way.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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