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

We generally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. It’s a personal, private matter. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when thought about in a broader perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health matter.

That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an impact on society as a whole. So as a society, we should consider how to deal with it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the guidance of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also spends a lot more time at home by himself. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.

After a while, these choices add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. As reported by the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain level of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the beginning since that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social isolation is costing him relationships. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. They might be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. This puts further tension on their relationships.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?

While on a personal level these costs will certainly be felt (William may be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local merchants because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s care will have to be carried out by his family. As a whole, his health can become impacted and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed down to the public if he’s uninsured. And so, people around William are effected rather profoundly.

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

Treating Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are a couple of fairly easy ways to improve this particular public health issue: prevention and treatment. When you correctly treat hearing loss (usually through the use of hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • With management of hearing loss, you might be able to help lower your risk of several linked conditions, like dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many daily social areas of your life.
  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
  • The demands of your job will be more easily managed.

Promoting good physical and mental health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. It makes sense, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

It’s equally important to consider prevention. Public information campaigns seek to give people the information they need to steer clear of loud, damaging noise. But even common noises can lead to hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

You can get apps that will monitor noise levels and warn you when they get too loud. One way to have a big impact is to protect the public’s hearing, often via education.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy founded on strong research and strong public health policy. We can considerably affect public health once and for all when we adjust our ideas about preventing hearing loss.

And everybody is helped by that.

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