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

Generally, hearing loss is considered to be an issue that affects our personal life. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing specialist. Personal. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also understand it as a public health issue.

That simply means, broadly speaking, that hearing loss should be thought about as something that has an impact on all of society. So as a society, we need to think about how to manage it.

Hearing Loss Comes at a Cost

William has hearing loss. He just learned last week and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really want to mess around with any of those hearing aids just yet (against the recommendations of his hearing specialist). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also spends much more time at home alone. It’s just too difficult trying to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So rather than going out, William self-isolates.

After a while, these decisions accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some amount of unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Overall, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning as that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William is missing his family and friends! His relationships are harmed because of his social isolation. It’s feasible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems distant. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. This puts further tension on their relationships.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue

While on a personal level these costs will definitely be felt (William might miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. William isn’t spending as much at local stores because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he doesn’t have as many friends. His health can be impacted overall and can lead to increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed down to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, those around William are effected quite profoundly.

Now take William and multiply him by 466 million and you will have an idea of why public health officials look at hearing loss very seriously.

How to Treat Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are two pretty straight forward ways to improve this specific public health issue: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed effectively (normally by wearing hearing aids), you can have pretty dramatic results:

  • It will be easier to participate in many social functions if you’re able to hear better.
  • You’ll have a much easier time managing the demands of your job.
  • With treatment for hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will notice your relationships get better.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to stimulate strong health, both physically and mentally. A lot 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 information they need to avoid loud, harmful noise. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.

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

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Some states in the U.S. are even altering the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. When we alter our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health for the good.

And everybody is helped by that.

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