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

Usually, hearing loss is thought of as a challenge that influences our personal life. It’s an issue that’s between you and your hearing professional and it’s about your health. Personal. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But hearing loss, when regarded in a larger context, as something that impacts 466 million people, we need to understand it as a public health issue.

That just means, generally speaking, that hearing loss should be thought of as something that has an effect on society as a whole. We need to consider how to manage it as a society.

The Cost of Hearing Loss

William just found out last week he has hearing impairment and he’s decided he doesn’t really need to fuss about with any of those hearing aids right now (against the guidance of his hearing specialist). 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 keeping up in meetings, etc.

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

After a while, these choices accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can result in a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Because of this the world economy can lose something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. This amount of lost income is only the beginning of the narrative because it ripples through the whole economic system.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are harmed because of his social separation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. It can seem like insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming tense because of this.

Why is it a Public Health Problem?

While these costs will certainly be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), they also have an impact on everyone else. William isn’t spending as much at local shops because he has less money. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be done by his family. Overall, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare costs. If he’s uninsured, those expenses get passed on to the public. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him rather profoundly.

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

Managing Hearing Loss

Luckily, this specific health issue can be addressed in two easy ways: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (typically via the use of hearing aids), the outcome can be fairly dramatic:

  • You’ll have a much easier time keeping up with the difficulties of your job.
  • With management of hearing loss, you might be capable of lowering your chances of several linked conditions, like anxiety, depression, dementia, or balance issues.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so you’ll have an easier time engaging in many everyday social areas of your life.
  • Communicating with family and friends will be easier so you will notice your relationships improve.

Dealing with your hearing loss is one way to promote strong health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are prioritizing the care of your hearing.

Prevention is equally as important. Public information strategies seek to give people the insight they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, such as using headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

There are downloadable apps that can monitor background decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. One way to have a big effect is to protect the public’s hearing, often through education.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Certain states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. That’s a strategy founded on strong evidence and good public health policy. When we change our thoughts concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health in a good way.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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