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 well being, between you and your hearing professional. Private. And that’s true, on an individual level. But when discussing 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 concern.

Now, generally speaking, that just means that we should be looking at hearing loss as something that affects society overall. So as a society, we need to think about how to manage it.

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William has hearing loss. He just found out 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 professional). Williams job execution, sadly, is being affected by his hearing loss; he’s begun to slow down in his work and is having a difficult time following along in meetings, etc.

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

These choices will add up after a while.

  • Economic cost: Ignoring his hearing loss can affect his income over time. According to the World Health Organization, hearing loss can cause a certain amount of underemployment and unemployment. Overall, this can cost the world economy as much as $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the beginning since the effect of that lost income has a ripple effect through economic systems.
  • Social cost: William’s friends and family miss! His social separation is costing him relationships. It’s possible that his friends don’t even know about his hearing loss, so when he doesn’t hear them he seems aloof. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming strained because of this.

Why is it a Public Health Concern?

While these costs will definitely be felt on a personal level (William may miss his friends or be down about his economic position), everyone else is also impacted. William doesn’t spend as much at local shops because he has less money. More attention will have to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. As a whole, his health can become affected and can lead to increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed down to the public if he doesn’t have insurance. And so, in that way, William’s hearing loss affects those around him rather profoundly.

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

Managing Hearing Loss

Thankfully, there are two pretty straight forward ways to help this particular public health concern: treatment and prevention. When you effectively treat hearing loss (usually via the use of hearing aids), the results can be fairly dramatic:

  • Communicating with friends and family will be easier so you will see your relationships improve.
  • You’ll have an easier time keeping up with the demands of your job.
  • It will be easier to engage in many social activities if you’re able to hear better.
  • Your risk of conditions like anxiety, dementia, depression, and balance issues will be decreased with management of hearing loss.

Encouraging good mental and physical health starts with treating your hearing loss. A lot more hearing professionals are making a priority of taking care of your hearing which makes a lot of sense.

It’s equally important to consider prevention. Information about how to safeguard your hearing from loud damaging noise can be found in countless public health advertisements. But common noises like mowing your lawn or listening to headphones can even result in hearing loss.

There are downloadable apps that can keep track of background decibel levels and give you a warning when things get too loud. One way to have a huge impact 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 research and strong public health policy. When we change our thinking concerning hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can significantly impact public health in a positive way.

And everyone is helped by that.

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