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

Usually, hearing loss is thought of as a challenge that influences our personal life. It’s a problem that’s between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your state of health. It’s a private, personal subject. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health concern.

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 deal with it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the recommendations of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

He also stops going out. There are simply too many levels of conversation for you to try and keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he isolates himself rather than going out.

These choices will have a cumulative effect 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 according to the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This level of lost income is just the beginning of the narrative because it ripples throughout the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are suffering because of his social separation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming tense because of this.

Why is it a Public Health Concern?

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on an individual level (William may be having a difficult time economically and socially), they also have an impact on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local stores because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be done by his family. As a whole, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. If he’s not insured, those costs go to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him rather significantly.

You can get a sense of why public health officials are very serious about this problem when you multiply William by 466 million people.

How to Manage Hearing Loss

Luckily, this particular health issue can be addressed in two simple ways: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (usually by using hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.
  • With management of hearing loss, you might be able to help lower your risk of several linked conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • It will be easier to participate in countless social activities if you’re able to hear better.
  • You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the demands of your job.

Promoting good physical and mental health begins 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.

It’s equally important to think of prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the insight they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

You can get apps that will monitor sound levels and warn you when they get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often via education) is one way to have a big effect.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Certain states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance treats hearing health. That’s an approach based on strong research and strong public health policy. When we alter our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically impact public health for the good.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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