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

We tend to think of hearing loss in terms of personal experience. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And that’s true, on an individual level. But hearing loss, when considered in a broader context, as something that affects 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 thinking of hearing loss as something that impacts society overall. We should consider how to manage it as a society.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William just found out last week he has hearing loss and against the advice of his hearing professional, that he can wait a while before looking into with hearing aids. Williams job performance, unfortunately, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time keeping up in meetings, etc.

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

These choices will accumulate over time.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can affect his income over time. Some unemployment can be a consequence of hearing loss as reported by the World Health Organization. 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 story because it ripples through the entire economic system.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family are missing him! His relationships are harmed due to his social isolation. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know he has his hearing loss, so when he is unable to hear them he seems aloof. It can seem like anger or insensitivity. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.

Why is it a Public Health Concern?

While these costs will certainly be felt on an individual level (William may be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also influenced. With less money in his pocket, William isn’t spending as much at the local retailers. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. His health can be affected overall and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs are then passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, those around William are impacted rather profoundly.

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

How to Treat Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are a couple of pretty simple ways to help this particular public health concern: prevention and treatment. When hearing loss is managed properly (usually via the use of hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:

  • You’ll have a much easier time staying on top of the demands of your job.
  • You’ll be capable of hearing better, and so it will be easier to engage in many everyday social aspects of your life.
  • Your chances of conditions like dementia, anxiety, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with treatment of hearing loss.
  • Your relationships will get better because communicating with friends and family will be easier.

Encouraging good physical and mental health starts with treating 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 just as important to consider prevention. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the facts they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But everyday noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even cause hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. Safeguarding the public’s hearing in a broad and practical way (often using education) is one way to have a huge effect.

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

Some states in the U.S. are even transforming the way that health insurance deals with hearing health. good public health policy and strong evidence have inspired this approach. We can considerably impact public health once and for all when we adjust our ideas about preventing hearing loss.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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