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

We normally think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s a problem that is between you and your hearing specialist and it’s about your health. It’s a personal, private matter. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when thought about in a broader perspective, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s important that we also frame it as a public health issue.

Now, broadly speaking, that simply means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We should consider how to handle it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William just learned last week he has hearing impairment and against the advice of his hearing specialist, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job execution, regrettably, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time following along in meetings, etc.

He also stops going out. It’s just too difficult to keep up with all the layers of conversation (he feels like people talk too much anyway). So he self isolates instead of going out.

With time, these decisions add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can impact his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can lead to a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose around $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak, because that lost income has a ripple effect throughout economic systems.
  • Social cost: William misses his family and friends! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is dismissing them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They might be getting the wrong idea concerning his behavior towards them. This puts added tension on their relationships.

What Makes Hearing Loss a Public Health Issue?

While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William might be having a hard time socially and economically), they also have an impact on everyone else. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops 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. Over-all, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare costs. The costs are then passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss impacts those around him quite profoundly.

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

How to Treat Hearing Loss

Fortunately, there are a couple of pretty easy ways to help this specific public health problem: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is treated properly (usually by wearing hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:

  • It will be easier to participate in many social activities if you’re able to hear better.
  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.
  • Your chances of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
  • The difficulties of your job will be more easily dealt with.

Encouraging good physical and mental health starts with managing your hearing loss. 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. Insight about how to protect your hearing from loud harmful noise can be found in countless public health ads. But common noises such as mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.

You can download apps that will keep track of noise levels and warn 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 big impact.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

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

And everyone is helped by that.

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