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

We generally think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s about you and your health, between you and your hearing specialist. It’s a personal, private subject. And that’s accurate, on an individual level. But when we talk about hearing loss in a broader context, as something that impacts 466 million people, it’s necessary that we also frame it as a public health issue.

Now, broadly speaking, that just means that we should be considering hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. So as a society, we should consider how to deal with it.

The Consequences of Hearing Loss

William just found out last week he has hearing loss and against the suggestion of his hearing professional, that he can wait a bit before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job performance, regrettably, is being impacted by his hearing loss; it’s been difficult for him to follow along in meetings, it takes him longer to get his work done, and so on.

He also spends lots more time at home alone. It’s just too stressful to keep up with all the levels of conversation (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he self isolates rather than going out.

After a while, these decisions accumulate for William.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring 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 as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s only the beginning because the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect all through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William is missing his friends and families! His social isolation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. They may be getting the wrong idea concerning his attitude towards them. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.

Why It’s a “Public Health” Issue

While on an individual level these costs will undoubtedly be felt (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also influenced. With less money to his name, William doesn’t spend as much at the local stores. With fewer friends, more of William’s caretaking will have to be carried out by his family. Overall, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed along to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in a way, William’s hearing loss affects people around him quite profoundly.

You can get an idea of why public health officials take this problem very seriously when you multiply William by 466 million people.

Treating Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are a couple of fairly easy ways to improve this specific public health problem: treatment and prevention. When you correctly treat hearing loss (usually by using hearing aids), you can have very dramatic results:

  • 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 management of hearing loss.
  • Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships get better.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to engage in many daily social aspects of your life.

Encouraging good mental and physical health begins with dealing with your hearing loss. An increasing number of hearing professionals are making a priority of caring for your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

It’s just as important to think of prevention. Public information strategies aim at giving people the information they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can monitor ambient decibel levels and warn you when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in an extensive and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a big impact.

We Can go a Long Way With a Little Help

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 change our thoughts about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically impact public health in a positive way.

And that helps everybody, 466 million and beyond.

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