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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 about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a personal, private subject. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when thought about in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also understand it as a public health concern.

Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society overall. We need to think about how to deal with it as a society.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William has hearing impairment. He just found out last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the advice of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this affects William’s job performance; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time following along in meetings, etc.

He also stops going out. It’s just too difficult trying to keep up with all the levels of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he isolates himself rather than going out.

After a while, these choices add up for William.

  • 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 around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the beginning since that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His relationships are suffering due to his social isolation. 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 seem like anger or insensitivity. This puts added tension on their relationships.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Problem?

While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William doesn’t spend as much at the local shops. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be impacted as a whole and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s not insured, those expenses go to the public. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him rather profoundly.

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 Handle Hearing Loss

Luckily, this particular health issue can be treated in two easy ways: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (normally by the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • With treatment for hearing loss, you may be capable of lowering your risk of several linked conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
  • Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
  • It will be easier to engage in countless social activities if you’re able to hear better.
  • The demands of your job will be more easily dealt with.

Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. 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. Public information campaigns seek to give people the information they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can lead to hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

There are downloadable apps that can keep track of ambient decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

Some states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s an approach founded on strong research and good public health policy. When we alter our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can drastically affect public health in a good way.

And everyone is helped by that.

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