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

We normally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. Personal. And on an individual level that’s true. But hearing loss, when regarded in a broader context, as something that affects 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health topic.

That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an impact on all of society. We need to consider how to handle it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William has hearing impairment. He just learned last week and he’s decided he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the recommendations of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job efficiency; it’s harder for him to keep up in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

He also stops venturing out. There are simply too many layers of conversation for you to keep up with (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.

After a while, these decisions add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain magnitude of underemployment and unemployment. Combined, this can cost the world economy as much as $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 relationships are harmed due to his social isolation. His friends could think he is dismissing them because they may not even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea about his behavior towards them. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Situation?

While on a personal level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may miss his friends or lament his economic position), they also have an effect on everyone else. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local retailers. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be performed by his family. Overall, his health can become impacted and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed along to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are impacted quite 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.

Treating Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health issue can be treated in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated effectively (typically by using hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:

  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.
  • You’ll have an easier time staying on top of the demands of your job.
  • Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be lessened with treatment of hearing loss.
  • You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many everyday social aspects of your life.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate good health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that more and more medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

It’s just as important to consider prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to avoid loud, damaging noise. But even everyday noises can cause hearing loss, like using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

You can download apps that will monitor noise levels and caution you when they get too loud. Protecting the public’s hearing in an extensive and effective way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

In some states they’re even extending insurance to cover hearing healthcare. That’s a strategy founded on strong evidence and strong public health policy. When we change our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly affect public health for the good.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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