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

We tend to think of hearing loss in personal terms. It’s about you and your well being, between you and your hearing professional. It’s a personal, private matter. And on an individual level that’s accurate. But when discussing hearing loss in a larger context, as something that affects 466 million people, we need to acknowledge it as a public health concern.

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

Hearing Loss Comes With Consequences

William just learned last week he has hearing loss and he’s resolved that he doesn’t really need to mess around with any of those hearing aids right now (against the advice of his hearing professional). Unfortunately, this impacts William’s job performance; he’s starting to slow down in his work and is having a hard time keeping up in meetings, etc.

He also stops going out. It’s just too challenging to keep up with all the levels of conversation (people talk too much anyway, he thinks). So he self isolates rather than going out.

Over time, these decisions add up for William.

  • Economic cost: Neglecting his hearing loss can impact his income over time. Some unemployment can be a result of hearing loss according to the World Health Organization. Combined, this can cost the world economy something like $105 billion in lost income and revenue. And that’s just the beginning as 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 separation is costing him relationships. His friends may think he is ignoring them because they probably don’t even know about his hearing loss. It can come across as insensitivity or anger. His relationships are becoming tense due to this.

Why is it a Public Health Problem?

While these costs will undoubtedly be felt on a personal level (William may be having a hard time socially and economically), everyone else is also impacted. William doesn’t spend as much at local merchants because he has less money. More attention will need to be given to William by his family because he has fewer friends. Over-all, his health can become affected and can result in increased healthcare expenses. The costs then get passed down to the public if he isn’t insured. And so, people around William are impacted quite significantly.

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 Handle Hearing Loss

Fortunately, there are a couple of pretty straight forward ways to help this particular public health problem: prevention and treatment. When you effectively treat hearing loss (usually by the use of hearing aids), the results can be quite dramatic:

  • Your relationships will improve because communicating with family and friends will be easier.
  • With treatment for hearing loss, you may be able to help lower your chances of several linked conditions, such as dementia, depression, anxiety, or balance issues.
  • The demands of your job will be more easily managed.
  • You’ll be able to hear better, and so you’ll have an easier time participating in many everyday social areas of your life.

Treating your hearing loss is one way to promote good health, both physically and mentally. It seems logical, then, that an increasing number of medical professionals are making hearing health a priority.

It’s equally important to think of prevention. Public information campaigns aim at giving people the information they need to steer clear of loud, harmful noise. But even everyday noises can result in hearing loss, such as listening to headphones too loud or mowing the lawn.

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

A Little Help Goes a Long Way

In some states they’re even extending insurance to address hearing healthcare. That’s an approach founded on strong evidence and good public health policy. When we change our thinking about hearing loss, and about preventing hearing loss, we can dramatically affect public health for the good.

And that helps everyone, 466 million and beyond.

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