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 well being, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a private, personal matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to recognize it as a public health issue.

Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be thinking of hearing loss as something that affects society overall. So as a society, we should think about how to handle it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William has hearing loss. He just found out last week and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the advice of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time following along in meetings, etc.

He also spends lots more time at home alone. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.

With time, these choices add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be a result of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning as the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His relationships are struggling because of his social separation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. They may be getting the wrong idea about his attitude towards them. This puts further tension on their relationships.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?

While these costs will definitely be felt on an individual level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic situation), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. Overall, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are effected rather significantly.

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

Managing Hearing Loss

Fortunately, there are a couple of pretty easy ways to help this specific public health issue: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed properly (normally by wearing hearing aids), the outcome can be quite dramatic:

  • It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you can hear better.
  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • With treatment for hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, such as anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • You’ll have an easier time managing the demands of your job.

Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with dealing with your hearing loss. More and more hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

Prevention is just as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But even common 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 warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

Some states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s a strategy founded on strong evidence and good public health policy. We can significantly affect public health once and for all when we adjust our ideas about preventing hearing loss.

And everyone is helped by that.

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